Massage Therapy to Treat the Side Effects of Mesothelioma

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Using Massage Therapy to Relieve Painful Mesothelioma Side Effects

Among end-stage cancer patients, over 50% of patients develop ascites (fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity). Peritoneal mesothelioma patients, especially, experience ascites as a cancer side-effect. Often, abdominal swelling causes intense pain and reduces one’s quality of life by restricting movement. Today, growing numbers of doctors recommend massage therapy in conjunction with traditional treatments to improve mood and reduce bloating.

Massage therapy is a type of complementary treatment that involves rubbing the patient’s muscles through the skin. The amount of pressure used depends on the massage technique and the patient’s preference. Common massage therapy techniques include:

  • Anma (Japanese)
  • Aromatherapy
  • Classic/traditional
  • Deep tissue
  • Hot stone
  • Myofascial
  • Swedish

Typically, massages cost between $1 to $2 per minute. Sessions usually last for at least 30 minutes, though most massages last between 60 to 90 minutes.

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Lymph Drainage and Fluid Buildup

In healthy bodies, smooth muscles push fluid through the lymphatic system. Growing tumors and inflammation interrupt this process, allowing fluid to pool in the peritoneal cavity (commonly called the gut). Usually, fluid buildup is a complication of a more serious condition (like fibromyalgias or cancer).

Among mesothelioma patients, abdominal swelling is a common and uncomfortable symptom. Because mesothelioma is incurable, curing these patients’ ascites is not possible. Consequently, treating the symptom is the only way to offer physical relief.

Other treatments for abdominal fluid buildup include:

Benefits of Massage Therapy

So far, research into the effectiveness of massage therapy for mesothelioma patients is still new. Yet, some benefits of massage therapy are clear. For some, patients noticed a reduction in bloating (or, at least, no increase in bloating). Most patients experienced improved mood, reductions in stress, and a greater sense of well-being.

People with the following symptoms could benefit from lymphatic drainage massage:

  • Arthritis
  • Digestive problems
  • Edemas or swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Insomnia
  • Migraines (repeated)
  • Lymphedema
  • Stress

The benefits of massage therapy for cancer patients include:

  • Boost mood and treat depression/mood disorders
  • Control pain
  • Ease anxiety and stress
  • Help relax and distract the patient from pain
  • Improve overall quality of life
  • Increase blood circulation
  • Lower inflammation and swelling
  • Prevent chemotherapy-related neuropathic pain
  • Reduce chemotherapy-caused nausea and vomiting
  • Reduce stress hormone levels
  • Relieve sore muscles
  • Treat cancer fatigue

Additionally, patients can benefit from massages without paying a professional. Patients and their loved ones can use traditional and gentle massaging techniques at home. Generally, massages for fluid drainage use very light pressure with upward, slow motions. Do not knead or grind areas.


As with any treatment, there are risks associated with massage therapy. Generally, massage is safe for most people. Yet, certain underlying conditions can increase the risk of complications after getting a massage.

Massage therapy risks for cancer patients include:

  • Blood clot – Massages do not cause blood clots but can dislodge them from vessels, allowing them to travel to the lungs.
  • Bone fracture – Using too much pressure on already-weakened bones can result in a skeletal fracture (or broken bone).
  • Bruising – Low platelet counts (caused by chemo) often lead to bruising after massages.
  • Infection – Risk is greater among patients with low white blood cell counts due to chemotherapy.
  • Torn skin or skin breakage – Cancer treatments (like radiation therapies) can weaken the skin, making it easier to tear or break if not careful.

Note: Cancer patients have a greater risk of developing blood clots after surgery or chemotherapy. Talk with your oncologist before about safety before undergoing massage therapy.

Last updated on June 25th, 2021 at 09:44 am

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