Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and there is some evidence that stress may be a contributing factor to this disease. Massage therapy reduces stress and enhances the immune system. Does that mean massage can reduce the occurrence and severity of cancer? Learn about the connection between cancer, stress and how massage therapy might help.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1,500 Americans die each day from cancer. It is the second most common cause of death, exceeded only by heart disease. For women breast cancer is the most prevalent and for men it is prostate cancer. The good news is that the five-year survival rate for all cancers diagnosed between 1999 and 2005 is 60 percent, up from 50 percent in earlier years.
Researchers have not found any one factor to be the cause of cancer. Different types of cancers have different statistics and contributing factors. For example, there is a strong connection between smoking and lung cancer. Obesity increases the odds of getting cancer, as does exposure to certain environmental factors, such as asbestos or benzene. Other cause and effect statistics are more elusive.
Though evidence thus far has been inconclusive and often controversial, many researchers, doctors and patients believe that high levels of chronic stress may cause or, at the very least, create an ideal climate within the body for cancer cells to proliferate.
Cancer is a generic term used for diseases where abnormal cells divide without the usual biological controls. These cells are able to invade other tissues and spread throughout the body via blood and lymph circulation. The National Cancer Institute has listed more than 100 types of cancer, which can be grouped into five basic classifications:
The abnormal division of cells can be the result of many things. The DNA of a cell might become damaged or somehow changed, producing a mutation affecting cell growth and division. This can result in a tumor. Not all tumors are cancerous and not all cancers produce tumors. (Leukemia, for example, does not produce tumors.) Only malignant tumors are referred to as cancer because of their ability to metastasize or spread from one area of the body to another.
While results have been somewhat inconclusive and at times contradictory, there are some interesting discoveries regarding the possible connection between stress levels and cancer. It has long been believed that the human body has cancer cells circulating within the body most of the time. In a healthy person, with a strong immune system, these cells are continually monitored and kept in check or destroyed. The question then arises as to why only a certain percentage of the population develop cancer and what, if anything, can be done to prevent it? Where does stress come into play? Is stress a cause of cancer, or is it simply a byproduct of the disease?
A person under stress produces high levels of cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline), which have been shown to make cancer cells (specifically breast and prostate) resistant to death. In other words, increased levels of these substances help cancer cells to grow, which might reduce the effectiveness of cancer treatments, cause cancer cells to grow more quickly and might even allow for cancer cells to grow rather than be destroyed naturally.
While stress may not be a direct cause of cancer, prolonged stress can lead to a person adopting behaviors that are known factors leading to an increase in the likelihood of developing cancer during ones lifetime, such as smoking, overeating and abusing drugs or alcohol.
There is no definitive research that shows massage can cure or even prevent cancer. Thats the bad news. The good news is that massage is well known for reducing stress and helping to enhance the immune system, and it has been shown that well managed stress and a healthy immune system might just be one of the keys to the inherent control of cancer cells within the body.
Research indicates that regular massage reduces both cortisol levels and the production of epinephrine, which are released when the body switches from rest and digest to fight, flight or freeze mode. Massage has also been shown to enhance the immune system and increase the ability to fight off illness and fatigue.
For massage to be truly effective it should be received on a regular basis once a week, every two weeks, even once a month is helpful. A one-time massage may feel great, but for it to have a long-lasting effect on the body and to be considered therapeutic, receiving massage should be a long-term commitment both for the massage therapist and for clients. In addition to getting a massage there are many ways to help reduce overall stress. Using yoga, meditation, taking breaks from a hectic schedule and doing things you love all contribute to both stress reduction and immune system enhancement.
With results inconclusive as to the connection between stress and cancer, perhaps it is best to err on the side of being proactive. Keeping yourself mentally sound and physically fit by eating right, staying active and getting a regular massage might just be the way to a long, healthy life!
Editors Note: If a client comes in with a diagnosis of cancer, the massage therapist should receive written clearance from his or her doctor before proceeding with any massage therapy. It is also advised that the massage therapist have advance training in working with cancer patients.
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Stress: Massage Benefits and Precautions
Cancer: Massage Benefits and Precautions
Cancer Facts & Figures 2010. American Cancer Society, 2010. Web. 29 Jun 2010. http://www.cancer.org/downloads/STT/Cancer_Facts_and_Figures_2010.
Hurt-Kozarovich, Lisa. Stress: A Cause of Cancer?. PsychCentral. N.p., 10 Dec 2006. Web. 29 Jun 2010. http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/stress-a-cause-of-cancer/all/1.
Psychological Stress and Cancer: Questions and Answers. National Cancer Institute, 29 Apr 2008. Web. 29 Jun 2010. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/facatsheet/Risk/stress.
Stress and Cancer. Cancer Research UK, 16 Mar 2010. Web. 29 Jun 2010. http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/cancercontroversies.
What Is Cancer?. National Cancer Institute, 11 May 2009. Web. 29 Jun 2010. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/what-is-cancer.
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