Health Benefits of Therapeutic Oncology Massage for MPN Cancer patients

First in a Series – “Natural Healing Ideas for MPN patients”

by David Wallace

A Personal Perspective 

Over the years, I have enjoyed a good massage on rare occasion.  An intense week of maneuvering the challenging slopes in Alta, Deer Valley and Snowbird, Utah comes to mind, about 15 years ago (pre-PV).  After 3 or 4 days pushing muscles to the ultimate extreme, intense leg burn set in.  A deep tissue massage was recommended.  It turned out to be one step from heaven, relieving muscles from the deep rooted aches and pains.

When diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera (PV) in 2009, I went through significant periods of inactivity, including many days never leaving the house due to fatigue and a wide range of symptoms.  Upon reflection, I decided massage might provide some much needed relief.

Oncology Massage

therapeutic massage for MPN cancer patient

I experienced oncology massage provided by my local cancer institute….at a reduced rate, one of the many benefits of being classified as a “cancer patient.”  While somewhat helpful, I found it to be too gentle.  Almost like the “healing hands” modality, lacking the desired pressure to relieve my achy joints and muscles.  I was informed that is the only type of massage allowed for cancer patients at the cancer institute.

After “grouponing”…. yes we created a new word…my way through several massage therapists over the last 2 years, I finally found a young lady who gets it just right for me.  I request a medium pressure tissue massage focused on the back, neck and shoulders.  Once the lights soften with relaxing music playing in the background, her well-trained hands go to work performing various massage techniques while I drift into a quiet harmony.  Due to our increased tendency towards itching, a neutral skin lubricant is highly recommended (very important).

Beforehand, I was asked to complete a “medical questionnaire” and explained to her about Polycythemia Vera (PV).  She requested a doctor’s note, providing clearance for massage therapy.  My doctor had no issues with it and readily provided the requested clearance.

The Benefits of Therapeutic Massage for me include:

While the benefit is relatively short term, this is a monthly treatment I look forward to!

Ashley Dwyer is a licensed massage therapist who runs Fire & Ice Therapeutic Massage in Mint Hill, NC.

ALWAYS check with your hematologist to make sure massage is acceptable for you and your specific MPN situation.


Massage therapy for cancer treatment works by stroking, tapping, kneading or pressing the soft tissues of the body.  Its aim is to have you mentally and physically relaxed.  This method isn’t new; it types of oncology massagehas been used for many years to bring natural relief for MPN – cancer symptoms.  Massage for cancer patients may concentrate on the muscles, the soft tissues or the acupuncture points.  Massage techniques can be soft and gentle, vigorous and brisk or somewhere in between.  Although sometimes uncomfortable, massage naturally relieves several MPN symptoms.

Gentler forms of massage such as aromatherapy have an effect on the patient’s nerve endings and help release chemicals known as endorphins to help provide relief for cancer symptoms, such as pain.  On the other hand, stronger methods, such as Swedish massage, helps stimulate blood circulation and circulation in the lymphatic system.  It also relaxes muscles and eases knotted tissues that can cause stiffness and pain.

What are the Benefits of Oncology Massage?

Scientific studies have reported that massage can relieve cancer symptoms such as:

Cancer patients who have had massages have reported a wide range of positive outcomes such improved:

  • Sleep
  • Quality of life
  • Mental clarity and alertness
  • The range of movement
  • Mood
  • General well-being

Why should people with cancer use massage?

Several reviews of scientific literature indicate that oncology massage helps improve the quality of life.  It can be used to help cancer patients feel better.  In a 2009 review carried out in the UK, which looked at 14 trials that used classical massage for symptoms in cancer patients, it was suggested that massage is a natural relief for many of the same symptoms MPN patients experience.  Symptoms include relieving pain, anxiety, nausea, anger, depression, stress, and fatigue.

It should also be noted, exercise and psychological intervention provided reduction in CRF (cancer related fatigue).

What does having massage involve?

If you are a blood cancer patient on your first visit for a massage, expect the therapist to ask you some general questions about your health, medical history, and lifestyle.  In case they are concerned that massage may interfere with your health, they may ask to contact your GP (general practitioner) or in our case your hematologist.  Your doctor will be asked if they approve that you go ahead with the massage.  Your hematologist will most likely say yes, with the understanding that massage can naturally relieve some MPN symptoms.

For a shiatsu massage, you will be asked to lie on soft mats on the floor, with your clothes on.  With most of the other massage therapists, you will be required to lie on a massage couch (table) for your treatment.  You may need to take off your clothes and only remain in your underwear.  Your therapist will then cover you with a large towel or gown, so as to expose only the parts of your body they are working on.  For a whole body massage, you will be asked to lie face down for the first half, and on your back for the last half of the treatment.

Your massage session should last an hour but can depend on your therapist.  If desired, your therapist might play some relaxing music as you are massaged.  The amount of pressure applied depends on the type of massage you are having.  When you feel uncomfortable and want the massage ended, just tell your therapist about it.

Who should give oncology / therapeutic massage therapy?

Blood cancer patients looking for an oncology or therapeutic massage therapist are advised to look for specialists trained and insured.  Ensure your massage therapist is trained to meet you where you are in your experience with cancer.  They should have the ability to give a highly individualized massage treatment to comfort, nurture, and support you in your process.

Ask your therapist the following questions:

  • How long have they been practicing massage?
  • Have they dealt with cancer patients before?
  • What extra training do they have to deal with people with blood cancer?


Clearly, massage can provide relief for symptoms in MPN blood cancer patients.  This is supported by research studies which have established that oncology massage is effective for reducing pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in cancer patients.  So, if you or anyone you know suffers from blood cancer, there is no reason why you shouldn’t consider having a massage.

As always, communicate with your healthcare provider (hematologist).  Be sure to discuss plans and get approval for massage, as our conditions are uniquely different.

Here are 101 studies that highlight the benefits of massage.

About David Wallace

Founder of PV Reporter, a resource for Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) patients and caregivers. After being diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera (PV) in 2009, I utilized social media to connect with "informed patients" and develop a better understanding of emerging treatment options. My philosophy on patient care is straight forward - "educating the patient is essential, so the patient can guide their physician to meet his or her needs." PV Reporter is a comprehensive resource hub giving visitors vital tools to become "empowered patients."

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