Free Massage Therapy Sessions an Important Part of Care For Patients at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center
Part of the Medical Center’s Commitment to a “Supportive Oncology” Approach to Cancer Treatment
Outpatients at the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Medical Center undergoing infusion therapy are offered a free service that is having a very positive impact on their care: 20-minute massages to help alleviate the pain, fatigue and tension associated with their disease and treatment. The hand, neck, shoulder and foot massages -- a unique service in the Greater New York region -- have become so popular, according to Cancer Center staff, that the volume since the six-year-old program launched has surpassed 10,000 treatments to date.
“Not all patients are candidates for or want massage therapy,” said Abraham Chachoua, MD, associate director of cancer services at NYU Langone. “But research has shown the effectiveness of massage therapy in helping patients improve their well-being and quality of life, in reducing physical and emotional distress related to cancer treatment, and in reducing pain medications. As a result, we have integrated massage into our treatment plans.”
On any given day, approximately 50 patients at the Cancer Center’s two Manhattan-based outpatient infusion units receive chemotherapy treatments that could last for several hours. The free massages are administered while patients are receiving treatment. Depending on the patient’s particular ailments that day, they can choose the type of massage they desire, for example, a foot massage. Each patient benefits from the massages in his or her own way.
Barbara J. Goldstein, of Manhattan, a 60-year-old lung cancer patient, who has had surgery, radiation and dozens of chemotherapy sessions over the past 20 months, says the “wonderful, wonderful” massage therapists at NYU Langone ask her each time she comes for an infusion what is troubling her that day – then they work on the specific problem. “I had terrible foot neuropathy one time while undergoing chemotherapy, and the massage therapist worked on my feet and relieved the pain. It made me feel calm, and put me in a Zen-like state. I was able to relax.” Ms. Goldstein points out that sometimes the massage therapists work on her shoulders to relieve general tension if that’s what she needs on a particular day.
The massages are provided by New York State-licensed therapists on staff at the Cancer Center; most days, four therapists are on site Monday through Friday providing the free massages. Massage therapy is not reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurers, but NYU Langone offers the service for no charge thanks to private donations, which support this unique service.
Peter I. Bermas, a 77-year-old bladder cancer patient who lives in Sleepy Hollow, NY, received six infusions in January, February and March of this year, and was “thrilled” by the free massages he received. “They were very relaxing and relieved the tenseness in my neck and shoulders that resulted from cancer-related anxiety,” he said. Unlike other patients, Mr. Bermas has had little direct pain from his cancer or his chemotherapy, but does suffer from related tension. “My massage therapist was lovely, just by being there she was calming; and it breaks the monotony of sitting for hours. She comes to me automatically for each infusion unless I direct her not to,” he said.
Part of the Supportive Oncology Approach to Care
NYU Langone’s approach to cancer care involves not only advanced forms of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but also incorporates “supportive oncology,” a specialized area of medicine focused on improving the quality of life for patients and their families. This includes reducing the physical and emotional burdens of illness through pain and symptom management, supportive counseling and the integration of complementary therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, mind-body therapies -- and massage.
“We have a medical model of massage therapy -- not a spa model,” said Eva M. Pendleton, a licensed massage therapist and manager of integrative health at the Perlmutter Cancer Center. “In our practice, massage therapists function as part of the medical team. That is very unusual in oncology.”
Supportive Oncology teams also look at the patient as a whole – not just as a patient with a particular cancer, said Tanveer P. Mir, MD, MACP, director of outpatient palliative care at the Perlmutter Cancer Center. The teams often consist of doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, social workers, palliative care physicians, physical rehabilitation specialists, physiatrists, psychiatrists, psychologists -- and integrative health professionals.
“The goal is to reduce the physical and emotional burden of illness through a collaborative effort with a patient’s principal care providers,” Dr. Mir said. “Our free massage therapy program in our outpatient infusion unit is emblematic of our commitment to this care model,” Dr. Mir added.