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Cancer Treatment Programs That Offer Massage
by Patricia Kirby

We offer a list and description of hospitals and treatment programs that incorporate massage as a standard part of their treatment options plans for cancer patients. Simply click on the name of the hospital to read a short description of their treatment program that follows below.

If you know of other hospitals that also offer massage to their patients please email us the name of the hospital and who to contact at the hospital. 

St. Mary's Mercy Medical Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Stanford University Hospital, Stanford, California
Cancer treatment Centers of America, Tulsa, Oklahoma
The Outpatient Rehabilitation Services Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Shadyside Hospital Center for Complementary Medicine,
Midwestern Regional Medical Center, Zion, Illinois
Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire
Summit Medical Center, Oakland, California

St. Mary's Mercy Medical Center
Massage has been offered to cancer patients at St. Mary's Mercy Medical Center  since 1996, and is considered a regular part of the center's nursing care.

Massage Reduces anxiety levels, relieves insomnia, eliminates nausea, eases depression, manages pain, and reduces the need for medication, according to Beth Cosmos, coordinator for massage therapy. "[Massage] quiets anxiousness, and then people can clear out emotionally and mentally. They look forward to massage because they feel it mentally, emotionally, spiritually," she said.

Cosmos was given the task of making initial presentations to doctors and staff, and then worked with doctors on a case-by-case basis until everyone was comfortable with what a massage program could offer. The hospital's medical staff was taught how to assess which patients would benefit most from massage, and now both physicians and nurses make referrals. Cosmos also teaches basic massage techniques to hospital staff and patients' families, and oversees an intern program that trains massage students.

Stanford University Hospital
Cancer patients at Stanford University Hospital don't just receive massage, they also get an education on how to be more in touch with their bodies. Massage therapy has been offered to patients at the hospital since 1993.

Six therapists work as hourly employees, offering Swedish massage, craniosacral therapy, gentle stretching, Trager® work, Reiki, Feldenkrais®, and deep-tissue work, when appropriate. "We want to get people in touch with their bodies in a positive way. For some people this is the first time they've felt good in their bodies in years," said Lee Daniel Erman, a massage therapist at the hospital.

Referrals are made by doctors, nurses and patients themselves. Erman noted, "We want to work compatibly and cooperatively with the standard conventional care they are getting."

Massage results in relaxation, nausea, relief, increased flexibility, reduction in swelling, a softening of scar tissue and positive body-awareness, according to Erman.

"A bone-marrow-transplant patient said that for six months he had lost all sense of and desire for food, exercise, and sex, [and that] massage was the only enjoyable bodily sensation he experienced," Erman said.

Cancer patients also receive somatic education from massage therapists, including observing body sensations, noticing where they feel tenseness and tightness, and learning to relax and breathe. Erman said that sometimes simply teaching body awareness can facilitate healing.

Outpatient massage for cancer survivors is offered through the hospital's Complementary Medicine Clinic, which has two massage therapists on staff. Massage at the clinic is often deeper and more focused, Erman said, because patients are in less serious condition than those in the hospital.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Lavender, mint and tangerine scent the air in patient rooms at this medical center, where aromatherapy massage is one of many services offered to cancer patients.

Massage therapy was first brought to the center three years ago after a patient requested it. It has since become a standard part of the rehabilitation program. Two certified massage therapists, who are also physical technicians, use myofascial release, Swedish techniques, strain-counterstrain, acupressure, neuro-muscular release and trigger-point therapy. Patients receiving massage report decreased pain, an increase in range of motion, and a decrease in nausea and headaches. Patients are referred for massage by their physicians, or they self-refer.

The massage therapists are sometimes an early warning system for potential problems, according to Karen Gilbert, director of oncology rehabilitation, as therapists occasionally find lumps that have not shown up on mechanical scans.

"The massage therapists, because they are familiar with patient's body, when something shows up, they notice it.

The Outpatient Rehabilitation Services Center, Morton Plant Mease Health Care
Patients who have had chemotherapy, radiation and surgery for cancer are sent to this center to receive massage therapy to relieve lymphedema, the fluid retention that often occurs in interstitial tissue after surgery or radiation treatments for cancer. The center has offered massage therapy to cancer patients since 1993. Referrals to the center are made by hospital doctors or nurses, or patients self-refer.

The two massage therapists, both full-time employees, use a technique called combined decongestive therapy to help drain the excess fluid. Massage therapist Mark Steward said that when the swelling is decreased, the incidence of recurrent infection goes down, pain decreases, and the areas are usually restored to normal healthy functioning.

"At first all our patients had extreme swelling," Stewart said. "Now we are getting people right after swelling starts, right after surgery. The sooner they get massage, the less swelling they develop."

Shadyside Hospital's Center for Complementary Medicine
Massage is just one component of this medical center's treatment protocol for cancer patients, which may also include acupuncture, hypnosis, physical therapy, naturopathy, Chinese medicine, eye movement desenitization and reprocessing (EMDR), Therapeutic Touch®, shiatsu, sweat lodges and shamanic work.

Massage has been part of the center's program for two years, and is utilized for patient comfort and pain relief, to treat insomnia, and as an immune system boost, according to massage therapist Tamara Luffy.

"Massage is like a medication - it helps [patients] get to that healing place where their body needs to be to start to work on itself," she said.

Two massage therapists work on contract, offering reflexology, craniosacral therapy, manual lymph drainage, shiatsu and deep-tissue work. Periodically the hospital offers month-long massage classes to educate hospital staff and the public about the benefits of massage and how it affects the body.

Midwestern Regional Medical Center
This small medical center serves primarily late-stage cancer patients. "We don't get the first diagnosis of cancer in patients - we get the patients that have been turned down, those who have been told to go home and wait for two months 'til God takes them. We have people come here for more options," said Director of Rehabilitation Stanislav Maravilla.

Massage has been offered here since 1997. Whoever needs or wants massage, providing it isn't contraindicated, is given it. "We have a standing order from the doctors," said Maravilla, adding that massage is used to ease nausea, decrease pain, relieve insomnia, and restore range of motion in patients who have had surgery.

Massage therapist Martin Farber works on contract, offering a blend of Swedish massage, neuromuscular therapy, and myofascial techniques in sessions tailored to patient needs. He goes on "comfort rounds" with doctors twice a week, assessing patients' comfort levels and seeing who massage might benefit.

In addition to giving massage to patients, Farber also offers a twice-monthly clinic for the staff to receive massage, and leads weekly workshops on breathing for vitality, self-massage, and basic massage techniques for patients, their families and the public.

Massage is powerful work, Farber noted. "I had the experience of a patient's husband stopping me in the parking lot and saying it was the first time he'd seen his wife smile in three months.

Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
The choices here sound like offerings at a spa: Reiki, shiatsu, Swedish massage, guided meditation and a selection of raspberry, ginger, mint and echinacea herbal teas. These are just a few of the complementary therapies offered to cancer patients at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Massage is considered a standard part of hands-on nursing care at the center, and has been offered since 1989 to cancer patients of all ages. Patients are referred by medical staff, or they self-refer.

Massage therapists and nurse Briane Pinkson works primarily on the oncology unit, although she is available to other wards as well. She uses a blend of bodywork types including Swedish/Esalen massage, shiatsu, Reiki, Trager work, Therapeutic Touch, trigger-point therapy, reflexology and Healing Touch.

Benefits that patients receive from massage include lessened nausea, pain relief, a decreased feeling of isolation, relief from insomnia, and an overall sense of peacefulness, Pinkson said. She has heard rave reviews from parents of young children, who ask her, "When are you coming back?" It's the only thing they look forward to."

Summit Medical Center
Cancer patients who receive massage at this medical center owe their thanks to the dedicated efforts of a volunteer who started out giving massage on the oncology ward eight years ago. In April 1999 the center hired that volunteer, massage therapist Jeannie Battagin, as an independent contractor to coordinate an effort to bring massage to other wards in the hospital.

Patients are referred to Battagin by physicians, nurses, pastoral caregivers or family members, or they self-refer. For people who can't afford to pay the donation that is requested for a massage, there is a scholarship fund set up by the Summit Medical Center Foundation, so no one is refused service.

Battagin finds there is always something she can do to help. "My role as massage therapist allows me to spend some time with patients. It is not one more invasive procedure or one more person rushing in and out of the room. Through massage I can truly present in an informed and caring touch.," she said.

The gentle Swedish massage she uses helps patients relax, lowers their need for pain medication, and relieves nausea and insomnia, Battagin said.

But sometimes the benefits of massage can't be measured Battagin added. "In a hospital there can be numerous mechanical procedures. This is different. For some patients it's a chance to re-connect with their own deeper sense of well-being. They feel cared about and held."