At one time it was thought that you could cause the spread of cancer by having a massage. Although our knowledge has moved on from this point it is still, in many cases, a ‘wife’s tale’ which many people lend credence to. Sarah Trangmar reports.

Let’s look at the facts:

Increase the flow of lymphatic fluid – increase the spread of cancer?

In some cases cancer does spread through the lymph system – but if we look at how the lymph system functions, we will see that a massage is really no different from our daily activities.

The lymph is ‘pumped’ through the body by the contraction of our muscles on the lymph vessels as we go about our daily activity. As the muscle contracts, it compresses the vessel which forces through the flow of lymph. The other major factor in lymph flow is breathing! A few deep abdominal breaths stimulate lymph flow measurably-so a swift round of housework while singing loudly will stimulate lymph flow quite nicely!

The lymph is the garbage removal system of the body, so it stands to reason that an efficient, smooth flowing lymph is actually an ally to your ability to control the spread of cancer, rather than a stagnant system clogged up with toxins, creating the potential of cell degradation due to a toxic environment!

Some cancer spreads via the bloodstream – but we don’t consider stopping the heart beat to stop the spread of cancer! In fact, we encourage increased circulation to increase the oxygen uptake as we know cancer doesn’t like an oxygen rich environment.
In other words, the spread of cancer is not achieved by speeding up lymphatic flow or circulation by massage, but by the metastatic potential of the tumour cells.

Cancer cells, tumours and metatasis – how do they develop?

Very simply – a cancer cell is a cell in which the genetic material has been damaged. The cells in a tumour all originate from a single cell whose DNA has mutated. A single mutation rarely causes cancer in an adult. It takes a number of mutations in one cell to turn it cancerous. There are a number of states in which cells are beginning to show signs of damage:

  • Enlargement (hypertrophy) – usually due to increased workload, hormonal over production or compensation for malfunctioning tissue.
  • Hyperplasia – cells look normal but they reproduce at a higher rate than normal.
  • Metaplasia – when one type of cell substitutes for another.
  • Dysplasia – cells are abnormal in shape and/or orientation.

As the mutations continue to change the cell’s ability to reproduce at a fast rate, their lack of stickiness, anchorage independence, less need for growth factors, the ability to secrete degradative enzymes and induce new capillary growth makes them into the tumours that have the ability to move to new sites.

As new discoveries about how cancer starts and spreads, it is clear that metastasis (the spread of cancer to different sites in the body) is a complex biochemical process orchestrated by genetic alterations in DNA.

There are many factors which determine the metastatic potential of a tumour: genetics, diet, lifestyle choices, age, immune system, environmental factors, inflammatory processes, hormones and stress levels.

Some of these factors may be improved by body work such as massage, shiatsu etc.

There are many benefits of good body work, varied both physically and emotionally. Many treatment side effects can be eased and well-being enhanced at any stage of the illness.

Obviously, great care still needs to be taken, there are some contra-indications to massage in cancer – for example you do not massage over a tumour site or over active cancer in lymph nodes and during certain stages of treatment there maybe contraindications due to lowered blood counts, however most of these can be overcome. An experienced practitioner will be able to adapt their massage to suit the circumstances with the full information and of course your doctor’s approval.

“Massage therapy is not contraindicated in cancer patients, massaging a tumour is, but there is a great deal more to a person than their tumour.”

Bernie Siegel MD