Having a professional massage

Massage during treatments and recovery can lift your mood, and offer comfort and support.

Choosing a therapist

It is recommended that you choose a therapist who is a member of a professional massage association.

These associations ensure that members have received adequate training in massage, undertake continuing professional education, and have a current first-aid certificate and professional indemnity insurance. Ideally a therapist has at least a Diploma of Massage or equivalent.

Ask a potential massage therapist about their training and experience, and whether they’ve worked with people who have cancer. Other questions include:

  • What certification do you hold as a massage therapist?
  • What types of massage or touch therapies have you been trained in? (See pages 10-12 for a list of different therapies.)
  • Are you trained to work with someone with a history of cancer?
  • What adjustments would you make for me?
  • What type of clients do you most often work with? (Ideally they are people who require special adjustments such as infants, the elderly, or those with a serious illness.)
  • Would you be able to liaise with my doctors or other health professionals, if needed?
  • Are you able to treat me at home if I am unwell?
  • What is the cost? Are your services covered by my health fund?

Discussing medical history

It is important to talk about your medical history with your massage therapist, even if the massage is part of a beauty routine such as a facial or pedicure. This will help the therapist make the right adjustments to the session so that it’s safe and comfortable.

The therapist may need to decrease the pressure of their strokes and to avoid areas affected by cancer.

Let the therapist know if you have any of the following symptoms or side effects from treatment:

  • fatigue
  • easy bruising or bleeding
  • low white blood cell count
  • recent blood clot
  • oedema or lymphoedema
  • nausea
  • pain
  • incisions from surgery
  • neuropathy
  • skin conditions such as rashes, broken areas of skin, or fungal infections
  • medical devices such as a catheter or stoma bag
  • cancer in the bones, or fragile bones as a result of osteoporosis.

Setting the scene

Massage usually occurs in a warm, quiet room. It can be given either while you lie on a table or sit in a chair. It can involve only part of the body or the whole body. You can have a massage while you’re fully clothed or directly on the skin. If you have undressed, only the area being worked on will be exposed. The other parts of your body will be covered by a towel or blanket.

If you are able to have a table massage, the therapist may place pillows under different parts of your body so they’re supported better. Many people close their eyes during a massage and let the therapist know if they need anything relevant to the session such as a change in pressure or another blanket.

Taking it slowly

When starting a massage program, it’s important for the therapist to begin with moderately light pressure.

Judge the effects of the session not only by how the massage feels while you’re having it but by how you feel 24 hours afterwards. While a massage may feel comfortable at the time, a few hours later or the next day you may feel light-headed, tired or in pain, even if the pressure was light.

If you do not feel any side effects from the massage within 24 hours and want to increase the pressure of the strokes at your next session, ask the massage therapist to do so gradually until you find the right level of pressure for you.

Feeling safe

You should feel safe, respected and comfortable during a massage. It is important to communicate your needs to the therapist. For example, let them know if their pressure is too strong or if you’re feeling cold. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, or the therapist is unable to make the adjustments you have requested, ask them to stop the session.

  • Talk to your doctor before having a massage.
  • Ask for a letter from your oncologist outlining your diagnosis and treatment. This will help your massage therapist develop an appropriate treatment plan for you.
  • Choose a time for the massage that is best for you. You may find it helpful to have the massage before your pain becomes severe or you get tired.
  • Tell the therapist if something hurts or causes discomfort. Let them know if there’s a certain area that shouldn’t be massaged.
  • Record how the massage feels in a journal or pain management diary.
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