Cancer treatment is never easy or fun. We’ve probably all heard the horror stories about how
sick and tired treatments like chemotherapy or radiation can cause us to feel. And yet, these
types of treatments remain the staple, go-to treatments for most kinds of cancer.
While many researchers are looking for ways to help treat cancer itself and eliminate it from the
body, it’s important to also highlight treatments that can help support people while they are
receiving treatment. This includes treatments to help ease some of the unpleasant side effects
treatment can cause, such as fatigue, nausea, and other conditions.
Keep reading to learn more about lymphatic drainage, a treatment option that could help
support people during cancer treatment and help them manage side effects.
What is lymphatic drainage?
Lymphatic drainage isn’t as gross as it sounds. In fact, there’s no need to “drain” anything from
the body, as the name suggests.
Instead, lymphatic drainage is actually a type of massage. The goal of this massage is to help
“drain” the lymphatic system of the body. When we get sick or undergo certain kinds of medical
treatments, this system can get “blocked.”
How does lymphatic drainage work?
The lymphatic system is a vital part of our immune system, though at times, it can struggle to
work effectively. Among the many duties the lymphatic system carries out (including helping
support the immune system), the lymphatic system also encounters cellular waste on a regular
basis. Sometimes, the flow of this system can become blocked, often due to treatments we
receive or other illnesses or diseases. You’re probably familiar, for example, with swollen lymph
nodes being a sign of infection.
Lymphatic drainage is performed by a massage therapist with special training. They will use
expert techniques to help improve the flow in your lymphatic system and help drain any swelling
or fluid that has built up in certain areas of your body. There is often a need for multiple
treatment sessions before you start to experience benefit.
In some cases, you may be able to perform lymphatic drainage on your own, with the right
training and support.
How does lymphatic drainage work for cancer?
For certain types of cancer, lymphatic drainage has been explored as a supportive treatment for
a range of cancer types. This means it doesn’t help treat cancer itself. Instead, it helps ease
side effects and symptoms.
One type of condition lymphatic drainage can help with is a condition called lymphedema, which
can be common in people after undergoing surgery for breast cancer. In fact, lymphedema, or
the build up of fluid in the arms and legs, is common in many cancer patients, especially those
that have undergone radiation treatment or those who have had the lymph nodes removed
during surgery. Lymphedema can be dangerous and life threatening, leading to certain kinds of
Is lymphatic drainage effective for cancer treatment?
- Mostly effective for lymphedema. Generally speaking, research does suggest that
lymphatic drainage could be effective for treating lymphedema, which could hold some
promise for cancer patients struggling with this particular condition. However, research
also suggests that more experimental research is needed to fully understand the
benefits and effectiveness of this treatment approach.
- Helps with migraines. Interestingly, one study explored and compared lymphatic
drainage and traditional massage therapy on migraine treatment. Findings suggested
that in certain instances, lymphatic drainage could have some benefit for patients
struggling with migraines.
- May be more effective in patients with more mild to moderate lymphedema. One
study looking at lymphatic drainage for patients with breast cancer found that patients
who developed more moderate forms of lymphedema may get more benefit from
lymphatic drainage than patients with more severe conditions.
Is lymphatic drainage treatment safe?
Generally, speaking, lymphatic drainage is a safe treatment to receive, especially for cancer
patients coping with lymphedema. However, you should avoid lymphatic drainage treatment in
some circumstances, such as if you have any heart condition or even a current infection. Some
people have also reported mild side effects after receiving lymphatic drainage, such as fatigue.
With any type of cancer treatment, it’s important to make sure you fully understand the available
treatment options and choose options that work for you. This should include talking to your
doctor before starting any cancer treatment. They can help you decide which treatment options
are right for you.