Pediatric Massage and Touch Therapy: Implications for Children with Cancer

September 26, 2023

Massage and touch therapy have been utilized for centuries across various cultures for healing and comfort. In recent times, the therapeutic benefits of massage for pediatric populations, especially for children with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, have gained significant interest. One commonly posed question regarding massage for children with cancer is, “Does massage spread cancer?”

Massage for Children with Cancer

Children with cancer face an array of physical and emotional challenges. Treatments can lead to pain, anxiety, and various side effects that can severely impact their quality of life. Massage and touch therapy have been studied as integrative therapies to help alleviate some of these symptoms.

Pediatric massage and touch therapy can provide numerous benefits for children with cancer, including;

Pain relief:
Published research studies suggest that massage can reduce pain in pediatric cancer patients by promoting relaxation and increasing endorphin levels.

Stress and anxiety reduction:
Gentle touch and massage have been shown to help lower cortisol levels, which can, in turn, reduce stress and anxiety in children undergoing cancer treatment.

Improved sleep:
In numerous research studies, it has been demonstrated that pediatric massage therapy helps to decrease sleep latency while at the same time increasing sleep duration and quality.

Enhanced immune function:
While more research is needed, preliminary studies hint at the possibility that massage might help boost the immune response, potentially aiding children in their recovery or resilience against infections.

Does Massage Spread Cancer?

Concerns about massage spreading cancer are not supported by current scientific evidence. This concern is rooted in the belief that increasing circulation through massage can potentially spread cancer cells. However, it’s essential to approach this question with a clear understanding of cancer biology.

Metastasis & Circulation:
Metastasis is the process by which cancer cells spread from their primary site to other parts of the body. This process involves a complex series of steps, including the invasion of neighboring tissues, entry and survival in the bloodstream, and the colonization of new tissues. Merely increasing circulation through massage is unlikely to induce or enhance this process.

Research Evidence:
To date, no scientific evidence suggests that massage can spread cancer. Many studies have shown the beneficial effects of massage in cancer patients, such as reduced pain, anxiety, and fatigue, without any adverse effects related to cancer progression.

Expert Recommendations:
Leading cancer institutions and international massage therapy associations suggest that pediatric massage, when performed by trained therapists, healthcare providers, and parents familiar with cancer and its treatments, is safe for cancer patients. However, precautions should be taken, such as avoiding direct massage over tumor sites or compromised areas, being aware of blood counts, decreased immune system function, bruising precautions, and skin fragility.

Healthcare providers working with pediatric cancer patients should be trained and knowledgeable about specific considerations, precautions, and contraindications related to this population.

Parents and caregivers interested in incorporating massage as a complementary therapy for their child should consult with their healthcare team and seek Certified Pediatric Massage Therapists (CPMT®) trained in pediatric oncology massage to ensure the safest and most beneficial experience.