There’s a lot of information on the Internet about cancer and unfortunately, that includes fiction as well as fact. It’s important to be aware which cancer myths are just that and which are worth concern.
One myth suggests that full body massages can spread lymphoma because the therapy stimulates your lymphatic system — tissues and organs (including the thymus, spleen, bone marrow, lymphatics and lymph nodes) that produce white blood cells to fight infections and various diseases.
Massage is a type of therapeutic body treatment that involves applying pressure and manually manipulating muscles and soft tissue. Some common uses of massage include: relaxation, pain relief (including back pain and headaches), and relief from stress, muscle tension and muscle soreness. Some theories speculate that mechanisms of massage can increase blood circulation and lymphatic flow – and while this perceived benefit itself is debated, it may explain the origin of the misguided notion that massage “spreads” lymphoma.
So, are massages harmful for someone undergoing cancer treatment? Is it really possible they could spread lymphoma? The simple answer: No.
“There is absolutely no evidence that lymphoma can be spread by massage,” says Ann LaCasce, MD, MMSc, a physician in the Adult Lymphoma Program at Dana-Farber and director of the Dana-Farber/Partners CancerCare Fellowship Program in Hematology/Medical Oncology. “We do not think of lymphoma as a disease that metastasizes – rather, it is often a systemic disease that travels through the lymphatics and blood and can land in any area in the body. Furthermore, manipulating tissue does not causes tumor cells to move.”
Massage is not only non-harmful to lymphoma patients, it’s actually beneficial for most cancer patients and can be an important part of a patient’s palliative care – a specialized form of medicine focused on treating the whole patient – at any point of treatment – during a serious illness and includes symptom and pain management.
Oncology massage therapists are trained to work specifically with cancer patients and make necessary adjustments to ensure safe and effective treatment. “There are many metabolic processes and physical activities, such as exercise, that increase circulation more than a massage ever would, and there have been strong associations between exercise and cancer survival,” says Maria “Bambi” Mathay, LMT, an oncology massage therapist and practicing Reiki master who treats patients at Dana-Farber’s Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Health Living. “The truth of the matter is that there is more research showing the clinical benefits of massage and in my 15 years treating patients I have seen those benefits – including decreased pain, anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and nausea – first hand.”
There is no risk or strong association between massages and the spread of cancer, so lymphoma patients can enjoy this therapy worry-free.