PUBLISHED ON: 15 August 2017

Some people worry that having a massage can encourage breast cancer to spread. We look at the facts about breast cancer and massages, as well as the benefits if practised safely. We’ve also put together some tips on finding a massage therapist and preparing for your appointment.

A woman receiving a massage

Can a massage spread cancer cells?

There is no evidence that massage can encourage breast cancer cells to spread around the body and it’s safe to have a massage even if you’re currently having treatment such as chemotherapy. In fact, massage can have many benefits for people with breast cancer.

So while in the past people with breast cancer were often turned away from spas, this is now changing. This year The Bannatyne Spa and ESPA spas have been paving the way by giving their therapists specialist training in treating people with cancer. Some NHS trusts now specifically recommend massage as a complementary therapy, and more and more spas are beginning to open their doors to people with cancer.

What are the benefits of massage if you have breast cancer?

Massage can help with:

  • muscle tension and stiffness
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • relaxation
  • emotional wellbeing

Booking yourself in for a massage can be a great way to do something for yourself away from your everyday stresses. After a breast cancer diagnosis, feeling stressed and being less active than usual can contribute to muscle tension and discomfort. Massage involves working on the body’s muscles and joints, using the hands to stretch and apply pressure in rhythmic strokes, which can soothe stiffness and encourage deep relaxation. Many people leave feeling looked after, refreshed and more in control.

Some people find that massage also helps them feel energised, which may help if you have cancer-related fatigue.

Tips on finding a massage therapist

  • contact your local cancer centre or hospital to see if they offer massage free of charge, or ask your breast care nurse or GP (local doctor) about this
  • book an appointment at a selected Bannatyne or ESPA spa, where trained therapists can give you treatments specifically designed for people with cancer
  • search for a qualified, private therapist using the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council website  
  • consider a home visit – if you prefer, some therapists will give you your treatment in the comfort of your own home

Preparing for your appointment


Talk to your GP or specialist team first

Always check with your GP or specialist team before having a new complementary therapy.

Call first

Tell them about your breast cancer before you book the appointment. Some spas and therapists may still be anxious about giving massage to someone with breast cancer or they may have questions to help them plan your treatment.

Avoid deep tissue massage

Choose a gentle massage that focuses on relaxation and places less pressure on the body.

Think about what to wear

You’ll have to undress for your massage. If you’re stiff from surgery, wear a bra and clothes that are easy to take on and off. Your therapist will leave the room to give you privacy while you undress.

Aromatherapy oils

Some people think that certain oils such as lavender can be harmful when you have breast cancer. There is little evidence about this, but talk to your GP or specialist team if you’re concerned. 

Important things to tell your therapist

Your therapist should avoid directly massaging the arm/shoulder area if you have lymphoedema. You can get a specialist lymphoedema massage (known as manual lymphatic drainage) to help improve the flow of lymph fluid.

If you have any soreness or discomfort from surgery, your therapist can provide extra cushions to protect any areas of discomfort or adjust your position. If you have pain in your arm or shoulder during the massage, ask your therapist to stop.

If you’re having radiotherapy, you should not be massaged on the area when it is being treated and until any redness has settled afterwards.

» Find more hints and tips on moving forward after breast cancer in BECCA, our free app