SEATTLE — Overlake Medical Center recently introduced massage therapy to supplement conventional cancer treatments for patients.
"In a physical respect, a cancer massage can help people relax, it can lower levels of stressful hormones like cortisol, it can increase levels of serotonin - a relaxing neurotransmitter... it can relax scar tissue," revealed Dr. Kristi Harrington, Overlake's Medical Director of Cancer Services. She specializes in highly an individualized and interdisciplinary management of breast cancer.
Dr. Harrington says the mental and emotional benefits for patients include stress relief, a renewed feeling of control of your own body, and improved sleeping habits.
Performed by oncology massage therapists, massages at the center slightly differ from those at a spa. Oncology massage therapists respect each patient's desires in how much they disrobe and will review medical records so they're aware of a patient's cancer diagnosis and treatment. Depending on the situation, insurance or an HSA may even cover the payment.
According to Dr. Harrington, all patients benefit from the massages no matter the type or stage of cancer. "I think at the initial stages of diagnosis when people are very stressed, it can help with relaxation," she added, "It can help with feelings of depression when patients are receiving chemotherapy." Data shows that it can reduce nausea associated with chemotherapy and improve circulation.
Oncology therapists perform different massages depending on each patient's needs. For instance, a gentle abdominal massage is said to reduce constipation that comes as a side effect of some treatments. Meanwhile, a light touch massage may be performed to promote blood circulation and healing in a patient who had just undergone surgery.
"I think it just helps a patient get back to accepting their body and realizing that their body can be touched in a pleasant way with their permission -- rather than having touch be associated with invasive treatments."
Good communication between doctors and their patients is key. At Overlake, doctors always ask patients what areas of their body they want focused on or avoided.
They are especially careful with patients who are new to the realm of massage, many of which end up thoroughly enjoying the experience, saying, 'It does help me feel safe in my body again.'"