Oncology Massage | Chris O'Brien Lifehouse

Massage in all its varied styles is the world’s most commonly sought after complementary therapy. It is regularly used to relieve stress and muscular aches and pains. In fact, it can be used to treat many aspects of the human condition extending to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions.

Oncology massage is a specialised area that caters to the needs of those living with cancer, those who are newly diagnosed and those with a history of the disease. Oncology massage therapists are trained to understand the side effects of cancer treatments and identify any medical reasons a patient should not undertake a particular treatment. They are trained to observe strict precautions in relation to pressure, speed, duration and areas treated to ensure both your safety and the best outcome from each treatment.

For cancer patients, traditional deep tissue or any kind of massage involving heavy pressure may not be appropriate. If you have increased skin or muscle sensitivity, are at risk of secondary lymphoedema or are in frail health because of your illness and/or treatment, conventional massage treatments may be inadvisable. In place of heavy pressure, oncology massage uses gentle fascial mobilisation, which softens the muscle tissues, relieving aches and pains. Research shows that this softer technique often yields results that are as good as conventional massage approaches for the relief of aches and pains, with the added benefit of being gentle on your body so you can better cope with your condition and treatment.

Meet the team

Oncology Massage Therapist
Member: AMT, ALA, BTA


Lizzie Milligan initially trained as a massage therapist in 1993 in London. Since then she has continued to study and develop her skills and knowledge with courses and workshops related to massage including oncology, sports and remedial, as a part of integrated care. She has studied other tactile modalities including Complex Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy and Bowen Therapy and enjoys combining from her toolkit to maximise each patient’s experience and improve their outcomes. Lizzie works both in private practice and here at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse LivingRoom since it opened its doors in 2013.


Lizzie has treated many people throughout every stage of their cancer journey from diagnosis, through treatment and into and recovery remission as well as comfort at end of life. She is passionate about nurturing and supporting people through this challenging time in their lives. Lizzie facilitates oncology massage courses for qualified and accredited massage therapists to deliver safe and effective care to cancer patients. She continues her education by regularly attending workshops and conferences in integrative care and hopes that it will become part of the mainstream medical model.

Bachelor of Applied Science
Occupational Therapist (OT)
Diploma Remedial Massage (DRM)
Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT)


Sandy has dedicated herself to massaging people to better health since her early 20’s. She has spent many years training and working alongside notable physio and occupational therapists to perfect her unique craft of caring touch and lifestyle advice. Sandy is a skilled occupational, remedial and oncology massage therapist who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the LivingRoom team.

Sandy understands how the demands of ill health, stress or a demanding life can manifest in the body as pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping or simply feeling “less than whole” and believes that anyone can benefit from the healing touch of a professional massage therapist.

Sandy is also available for home visits to support patients who are very unwell.

Remedial and Oncology Massage Therapist
Member: Massage and Myotherapy Association, OMT


Clara Thompson is one of our newest team members starting in 2020 who provides oncology massage services on the wards and in the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse LivingRoom.

Clara’s 24 year career as a massage therapist has been varied and rewarding including positions at multiple Olympics, the Australian Institute of Sport as well as longstanding roles in multidisciplinary practices supporting the local community.  She holds a Advanced Diploma of Myotherapy (RMIT).

A decade ago a spark was ignited in Clara to expand her knowledge and ability to explore oncology massage therapy. Clara began her formal oncology massage training in 2013, completing the full hospital training in Oncology Massage Level 4. This passion, alongside ongoing skill development, have culminated in her role at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.  Here she believes is an unparalleled place to work; a supportive environment providing comprehensive and total care to patients their carers and their families. Clara considers herself privileged to join people on their cancer journey and to have the ability to provide safe, caring and considered touch. When not working at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse or at private practice in Manly Vale, she tries to savour the adventure of life with her husband and kids, and is very content running in the bush with their dog, Wally.

Clara provides Oncology Massage services on the wards and in the LivingRoom clinic.

At your first session, your massage therapist will talk to you about your health, medical history, treatment and any symptoms or side effects you may be experiencing. Following this, your therapist will discuss what you are hoping to get out of massage therapy.

Before beginning your treatment, your therapist will gauge your comfort level, both in terms of what physical positions are comfortable and how comfortable you are undressing. Some people prefer to disrobe and lie on the massage table beneath a towel for a skin contact massage. Others prefer to remain partially or fully clothed, with pressure being applied through the clothing. You may choose to lie down on the massage table or use a reclining chair or even a normal chair with a pillow for some support. The session’s aim is always comfort, relief and relaxation, so your therapist will work within your own personal limitations and preferences to ensure your wellbeing and the best outcome for the session.

Your therapist may focus on your whole body, or hone in on particular areas during the massage. They will also take into account any painful areas or parts of your body that should be avoided, such as near the lymph nodes if you are at risk of lymphoedema.

When the session concludes your therapist may recommend other modalities that might provide you with some benefit, or they may give you some self-massage or relaxation exercises to practice in your own time.

As a gentle touch therapy, oncology massage aims to elicit a relaxation response, giving you an opportunity to unwind, breathe deeply and heal. Gentle touch techniques guide your body into a state of relaxation ease and bliss. This then changes the internal body chemistry, stimulating a release of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins which calm the nervous system. This soothing process promotes a sense of general wellbeing and calmness.

As well as enhancing your overall quality of life and making you feel relaxed, oncology massage can be used as part your symptom management plan.

Research has shown that oncology massage reduces the side effects experienced from conventional treatment of cancer and improves many symptoms associated with the disease itself. One study looking at oncology massage as a supportive treatment for cancer patients showed that most participants reported an improvement in a range of symptoms and treatment side effects:

Pain improved 47%
Fatigue improved 42%
Anxiety improved 59%
Nausea improved 51%
Depression improved 48%

Other benefits may include improving disturbed sleep, oedema, constipation and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (numbness, pins and needles or hypersensitivity in the hands and feet).

Cancer is just one aspect of your life: you may find that massage treatment also improves other concerns or issues which might be affecting your health or wellbeing.

Massage and constipation

Constipation is a common side effect for people receiving chemotherapy treatment as well as being a symptom of some kinds of cancers. It can also be caused by certain pain medications and extended periods of bed rest. Skilled abdominal massage can be effective at relieving constipation.

Are there any risks?

The risk factors for this gentle style of massage (by experienced practitioners) are low and tend to be mild. They include nausea, headache, light-headedness, muscular aches and pains and cold-like symptoms. We recommend you see therapists who are both trained and accredited in oncology massage. These specially trained therapists can work within your individual limitations, and those of your treatment and overall health, while focusing on creating a feeling of wellness.

Further reading

Massage Therapy for Symptom Control:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15336336

To make an appointment and to find out the full range of our fees, please call 02 8514 0038 or email livingroom@lh.org.au.

We are here to help you so if you are having financial hardship please contact us. Our main priority is to care and support you, that is what we do.

Patients with private health insurance, depending on level of cover, may be eligible to claim a rebate.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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