Massage Today
Massage Today dotted line
dotted line

dotted line
Share |
  Forward PDF Version  
Massage Today
April, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 04

Deep Consideration

By David Razo

"Despite having cancer, I have not suddenly become superhuman. I am not obligated to act more positive or happier than I actually feel just because I have cancer." -- Cary Vera-Garcia1

The quote above, excerpted from an online article, made me think of the many challenges cancer patients confront daily: fear, embarrassment, anger, depression, loneliness, pain, sadness, terror and anxiety, to name just a few.

In fact, referring to these emotions and feelings as mere "challenges" almost seems to minimize this terrifying ordeal because the experience goes much deeper; it rattles one's foundation.

An increasing number of cancer patients are seeking massage therapy to facilitate improved health and well being; however, when administering massage treatment to oncology patients, there is one especially important hands-on consideration: no deep or vigorous touch is to be administered.

The internal landscape of an oncology patient is under continuous dynamic change that can cause the soft tissues to shift into a very fragile state. Oncology massage is gentle work, which is enough to foster a therapeutic need. There are three recommended therapeutic contacts in oncology massage:

The first level of contact is the lightest contact. The surface of the hands move broadly across the recipient's body, maintaining constant contact but never applying any level of pressure. This type of contact is commonly referred to as therapeutic touch or healing touch. This is the only contact suitable for hand placement over cancer sites.

The second level of contact is referred to as "lotioning" or neural stroking. It also is applied broadly but with very low contact. Pressure should be just enough to ensure that lotion is absorbed into the skin. The neural stroke is applied in a slow, rhythmic pace to sedate the nervous system.

The final level of contact engages with the flesh and soft tissues. In this contact, the hand is "soft." The palm of the hand and finger pads gently rest on the recipient's skin, or over the clothing or sheet. The "avocado test" is a useful method for determining the level of appropriate touch. If you are an avocado lover like I am, you know how important it is to find the right avocado. The "ripe" sticker may help you narrow your selection, but it is still necessary to test several. When you test an avocado, you place your hand around it and depress the surface very gently; you don't want to squeeze too hard, though, or you'll pierce the skin. Use the avocado test as a gauge when massaging oncology patients.

Oncology massage, unlike many other massage modalities, is a not a series of techniques or applied protocols. Rather, it is the practitioner's ability to recognize and work within clinically established guidelines and then make the bodywork adjustments required to accommodate any positioning, pressure, pace or site considerations that might apply. These positioning, pressure or site considerations are different for each person, and often change for patients from week to week.

As surgeon Bernie Siegel notes, "Massage therapy is not contraindicated in cancer patients; massaging a tumor is, but there is a great deal more to a person than their tumor."2


  1. Vera-Garcia C. Losing One's Right to Complain., Spring 2006.
  2. Siegel B. Clarifications (letter to the editor). Massage Therapy Journal 1996;35(2):12.

David Razo has practiced massage therapy and bodywork for more than 10 years, specializing in myofascia and pain management. He currently works with a medical doctor in private practice.


Join the conversation
Comments are encouraged, but you must follow our User Agreement
Keep it civil and stay on topic. No profanity, vulgar, racist or hateful comments or personal attacks. Anyone who chooses to exercise poor judgement will be blocked. By posting your comment, you agree to allow MPA Media the right to republish your name and comment in additional MPA Media publications without any notification or payment.
comments powered by Disqus
dotted line