Cancer and Massage Therapy Part I: Essential Contraindications
Massage General Courses

Cancer and Massage Therapy Part I: Essential Contraindications

Author(s): Tracy Walton

2.5CE credits 10 Lessons Text

For people with cancer and cancer histories, massage therapy can be a powerful intervention. Skilled, structured touch has the potential to reduce isolation, relieve symptoms, and help people feel cared for, whole, and empowered.

This course includes essential contraindications for massage for common cancer presentations. It takes a detailed look at current thought on when, where, why and how massage therapy is contraindicated.

This first course of the two-part series addresses essential contraindications for the most common cancer presentations, both early in the disease and as it develops over time. The second course in this series addresses essential contraindications that arise from the treatment of cancer, often presenting a separate set of issues from the cancer itself.

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DISCLAIMER: The information in this course is not designed to replace input or permission from a client’s physician for massage. It is designed to help massage therapists anticipate common issues arising in massage for this population. In all cases, you must use your professional judgment in determining what questions to ask and how to proceed with a client based on all information available.

When you have completed Part 1 of this two-part series, you will be able to:

  • Summarize current statistics describing the prevalence of cancer and incidence of specific forms of cancer in the US.
  • Describe recent research findings into the benefits of massage for clients diagnosed with cancer.
  • State five common massage therapy contraindications for cancer and its complications.
  • Define deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and the concern it presents to massage therapists working with oncology clients.
  • List the signs and symptoms of DVT, the risk factors and the actions to take when these are present.
  • Explain four additional contraindications to modalities, techniques, positioning and other massage factors for clients diagnosed with cancer.

  1. The Role of Massage Therapy
  2. Cancer Complications and Contraindications
  3. Tumor Sites
  4. Bone Involvement and its Complications
  5. Cancer Pain
  6. Vital Organ Involvement
  7. Deep Vein Thrombosis
  8. Questions for Clients with Cancer
  9. Questions for Clients with Cancer
  10. Concluding Thoughts

Tracy Walton consults with hospitals and training programs, does research, and teaches, “Caring for Clients with Cancer” nationally. In 2003, she was named the AMTA Teacher of the Year. She has worked with the Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School’s Osher Institute, researching the role of massage in patients with metastatic cancer. A former Academic Dean and Pathology Instructor at the Muscular Therapy Institute in Massachusetts, Tracy has a Master’s degree in Biology, with concentrations in Biochemistry and Cellular Biology. 

She is the author of the textbook, Medical Conditions in Massage Therapy. She holds an abiding reverence for the heart, soul, and science of bodywork. Tracy maintains a bibliography of oncology massage research at

About the Editor

Julie Goodwin is a longtime massage therapy educator and an NCBTMB-approved provider. She is the author of Touch & Movement: Palpation and Kinesiology for Massage Therapists and creator of