October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Can Massage Therapy Help With Breast Cancer?

Oct 10, 2023

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and so we’re going to discuss breast cancer, cancer prevention, and how massage therapy may be able to help cancer patients find some relief.

Breast Cancer

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer women contract, according to Mayoclinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352470). Like all forms of cancer, breast cancer occurs when the cells of your body (breast cells in this case) suffer damage to the DNA, causing them to lose their programmed cell death. This causes the cells to continue to grow and reproduce, creating tumors that can damage other functions of your body.

Breast cancer is usually recognized by changes in the skin around the breast, such as a lump, changes in coloration or texture of the skin, peeling or flaking skin around these features, or a sudden inversion of the nipple. These can all happen very suddenly and should be examined by a doctor even if a recent mammogram turned up no results. Being aware of these issues can help you identify problems and treat them before they become potentially fatal.

However, awareness isn’t the only important aspect of monitoring your health. Prevention is also important.

Cancer Prevention

A lot of people talk about awareness and how to watch for signs of cancer, but frequently overlook lifestyle choices that can help prevent cancer. It’s difficult to actually prevent cancer, as we don’t yet understand all of the causes. We do know of some, like overexposure to UV light, or certain substances, and genetic factors, but our knowledge is far from complete. When we talk about cancer prevention, what we really mean is risk reduction.

Mayoclinic has a solid list of things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer in general (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/cancer-prevention/art-20044816), but let’s take a look at the ones that have been linked specifically to breast cancer.

1.Keep a Healthy Weight

Keeping a healthy weight is encouraged because obesity is a factor in so many health issues. It has been found to be linked to cancer as well, though no one knows exactly why. Increased physical activity can not only help reduce your weight, it also has been found to reduce the risk of cancer. Humans as a species are built to be active and when we stop being active, it changes how our body processes food, making it easier to put on weight. This may in some way affect how our cells reproduce as well, but the exact reasons are a mystery. All we know is that a healthy weight and an active lifestyle correlate to reduced risk of cancer.

2. Limit Alcohol Consumption

While a bit of alcohol now and then may not be a problem, too much is linked to many health issues. While most alcohol related health issues are tied to the liver and kidneys, it has been linked to breast cancer, as well as several other types of cancer.

3. Stay on a Healthy Diet

There are many foods on the market today which have been linked to cancers of various kinds. Processed meats (and processed foods in general) are especially strongly linked. Refined sugars are also correlated, but this may simply be because they are linked to obesity, which has cancer links. If you want to reduce your risk of cancer, you should stick to a diet high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The Mediterranean diet – one high in nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables, as well as incorporating virgin olive oil – is especially good for reducing cancer risks. Fatty fish, such as salmon, also helps because it contains a lot of essential omega-3 oils.

4. Hormone Therapy and Oral Contraceptives May Contribute to Cancer

Research into this is still ongoing, but hormone therapy and oral contraceptives may be linked to cancer. Estrogen in specific has a strong tendency to increase the risk of breast cancer. If these treatments have been recommended to you, you should speak with a doctor about the risks so you have a better idea of what to expect.

5. Breastfeed Your Child

The breast cells responsible for producing milk are one of the cell types that most easily go cancerous to those who are at risk. If you have children, breastfeeding may reduce your risk of cancer, according to the CDC (https://blogs.cdc.gov/cancer/2019/08/01/breastfeeding-for-cancer-prevention/). Again, exactly why is still ongoing, but it is believed to affect breast cancer rates because breastfeeding affects your hormones, delaying the return to normal menstrual cycles. This reduces spikes in estrogen, which in turn reduces the risk.

6. Avoid Direct Exposure to UV Light

While there are many types of radiation that can cause cell damage likely to lead to cancer, UV light is the one form that is most common. As such, one should protect themselves from it as much as possible. Avoid tanning beds, stay out of the sun during the hours of 10 AM to 4 PM, stay in the shade, and wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or better.

7. Know Your Genetics

Certain genes have been linked to an increased chance of cancer and you can get tested for this. If you know cancer runs in your family, get tested to be sure. While this won’t reduce your risk by itself, it does alert you to the issue. You’ll know to pay careful attention to risk behaviors and watch for signs. Being tested also means your doctor will know of the risks and will know to take extra steps to watch for it. Catching cancer early is critical to survival. If caught early enough, it may even be possible to simply remove cancerous tumors without needing chemotherapy or other harsher treatments.

Can Massage Therapy Help With Cancer?

I have to make this much clear right up front, as I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. Massage therapy cannot prevent or treat any form of cancer. It should not be considered as a replacement for any proper treatment. That said . . .

Cancer and cancer treatments do cause pain and stress. Doctors have been studying how massage therapy could help patiences for a long time. According to some studies, massage therapy may help with the following issues.


Pain is the most common and debilitating symptom of cancer. The exact amount varies from one type of cancer to the next, but up to 50% of people getting cancer treatment report serious pain from the disease, while advanced stages of cancer report 90%. Some studies indicate that massage therapy can be helpful in relieving some of the pain and stress, helping people respond better to the cancer treatments.

2. Nausea

Chemotherapy is a highly aggressive treatment. Essentially, doctors are attempting to poison the cancer cells to kill them, while not overly damaging the healthy cells in your body. This has many side-effects, with nausea and vomiting being the most common. While more studies need to be done to confirm the findings, some recent experiments suggest that patients who use massage therapy have reduced bouts of nausea.

3. Stress and Fatigue

One thing massages are very good at is relieving stress. It helps us relax. Stress has been shown in repeated studies to affect our health. The more stressed we are, the more likely we are to become ill and the harder it is for our body to recover. It’s hard to imagine anything more stressful than cancer, so anything that can be done to relieve that stress can aid in recovery. Reduced stress can also help reduce the fatigue caused by cancer and cancer treatments.

4. Depression

Depression is extremely common among cancer patients – no surprise there. All the factors listed above can all play into that depression, so massage therapy can also help reduce feelings of depression. It may go beyond that, however, as some research indicates that it may also reduce mood disorders in general, which can help stabilize your emotional state.

5. Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy

CIPN is what we call many of the symptoms of chemotherapy. Pain is one of the symptoms in this group, but there are others (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/fullarticle/2726030). These can include tingling, numbness, increased sensitivity to touch, temperature, and pain, and muscle weakness. Recent studies indicate that massage therapy may reduce the severity and incidence of these symptoms.

Are There Risks In Massage Therapy

According to a 2007 article (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1891200/), there are additional risks to consider, with cancer patients. Certain treatments may cause blood issues, such as coagulation, hemorrhaging, or low platelet counts. It can also have issues with skin and bones – especially tumors and open sores from radiation treatment. If you are being treated for cancer, speak to a doctor about these risks before signing up for massage therapy and inform us of this so that we can take appropriate steps to avoid these complications.

Breast Cancer And Massage Therapy

Again, it’s important to remember that massage therapy is not a replacement for cancer treatment. We cannot cure cancer; however, numerous studies and experiments seem to show that it can help you deal with the symptoms. By relieving pain and reducing stress, massage therapy can make the symptoms more manageable. This improves how well your body responds to the treatment, which can aid in recovery as well as help you feel less depressed about the situation.

It’s not a cure, but it can help you cope.

Visit Ranch Hand

If you’re dealing with cancer treatments, I’d like to help you out. Give me a call today and schedule an appointment. We’ll help ease the pain and stress, letting you get back to your life feeling stronger and ready to deal with anything.