Massage After Lymph Node Dissection

Last Modified: February 11, 2011


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Can I get a massage if I had lymph node dissection or have lymphedema?


Andrea Richtel-Branas, MSE, MPT, Lead Therapist at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Massage itself is not indicated to treat lymphedema. Deep tissue massage in the quadrant where someone had an AND (axillary node dissection) can increase their risk for lymphedema. In addition, there are massage therapists who do "Lymphatic drainage" and there are some who do "Complete Decongestive Therapy/CDT". The problem with lymphatic drainage is that the therapists are typically only taught how to treat an intact lymphatic system. People who have lymphedema secondary to cancer treatments do not have intact lymphatic systems. If the massage therapist does not know how to handle the damaged lymphatic system, they can cause more harm than good. Massage therapists who have CDT training are great, there just aren't enough of them in the world.

You should visit the NLN website to find a certified therapist. As I discussed above, if the massage therapist is going to treat the lymphedema, then they need to be trained as a CLT. If they are just giving massage, then they need to know enough to avoid the area at risk or with lymphedema.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. See the full transcript of Integrating Complementary Therapies into Your Cancer Care.