Cancer, that terrible "C" word that makes you wince as you hear stories of people struggling to live. You undoubtedly know someone, a friend, a family member, or you yourself that have been diagnosed with some form of cancer.
In 1971, Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act which committed the United States to what has been known as the "war on cancer." Since then, dramatic technologies have been created in cancer detection and care. "Smart" drugs that target only the cancer cells are being developed, radiation machines are becoming more and more refined, causing less damage to surrounding tissue, and each year since 1993 the survival rates have improved. In 1975, the five-year survival rate for Americans was 50%. In 2001, the last year figures were available, that rate has improved to 65%.
And yet, despite the advances made in the last few decades, the rate of cancer incidence remains sobering. At some point in their lives, usually later in life, a staggering number of people will be diagnosed with cancer. For instance, more than a third of American women and one in three of men are stricken. These numbers will only rise as the baby boomer generation ages because cancer, by and large, is a disease of aging. As the population grows older through the 21st century, the number of people with cancer will also increase.
When the National Cancer Act was signed, the only concern was to cure the disease. Scant attention was paid to the physical, emotional, and social issues created by the toxic treatments. The aim was to keep people alive. Now, more than three decades later, the vision of cancer care has changed. The focus has broadened to include not only eradication of the disease, but also improve quality of life, particularly since many varieties of cancer are being managed as a chronic condition, as with diabetes and heart disease. Cancer survivors, numbering 10 million in the U.S., not only want to be cured from their cancer; they want to live well.
As a part of enhancing quality of life, cancer patients have turned toward complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), also referred to as integrative medicine. These therapies include such interventions as excercise, prayer, aromatherapy, acupuncture, guided imagery, massage, diet, and nutritional supplementation. Massage is reported as one of the most popular cemplementary modalities. Multiple studies show that approximately 20% of cancer patients use massage. Patients say that they use complimentary modalities to enhance the immune system, to reduce stress, and to manage the side effects of treatment. Massage helps people heal, it moves them toward wholeness. For a day or an hour, they forget about cancer. Massage is not a cure for cancer, it is a complement to the treatments being used to cure the disease. These curative treatments are notorious for their side effects, such as nausea, fatigue, weight changes, or immunosuppression. Touch therapies, including massage, lessen the severity of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, making the treatment easier to tolerate.
A 2005 survey of physicians showed that nearly two-thirds of them have recommended CAM therapies to their patients. In this survey, massage therapy ranked higher than other CAM therapies with the doctors: 57% felt massage can be effective.
On March 26, 27 and 28, 2010, I participated in a 24 hour CEU intensive class with 20 other licensed massage therapists to learn how to do "Massage for People Living With Cancer." We spent time in the classroom as well as time on the massage tables working on our fellow classmates. On the 28th, we were fortunate to have 13 cancer patient volunteers to come to the school and trust us enough to let us give them "oncology massage."
Please make sure that your massage therapist has had adequate training concerning cancer and the treatments for cancer. The massage protocol for a person with cancer or recovering from cancer is vastly different than the massage protocol for a person without the disease!