By William F. Burton Jr., LMT, CMCE Originally published in Massage Today, June, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 06.
With an increase in research and an increase in information and knowledge comes an increase in self-awareness. This couldn’t more pertinent than with the subject of breast cancer and breast care.
Breast cancer is the most common form of malignancy in women, with approximately 200,000 being diagnosed in the United States every year and 40,000 women fatally succumbing to this disease. Along with early breast cancer detection, there are many techniques that may benefit prevention and survival rates.
The breast is composed of different layers of tissue types; connective, adipose and glandular, which overlay the pectoralis muscles located over the rib cage. The subcutaneous adipose connective tissue and fat endow the breast with its size and shape. Lymph nodes and lymph vessels collectively comprise the breast’s lymphatic system and work with a chain of lymph nodes that run up the center of the breast bone called the mammary chain and all drain to the lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary) region.
The lymphatic system works as the body’s garbage collection system, clearing the area of infection, bacteria, metabolic waste and any other stagnation. This natural action protects the area from the formation of unhealthy tissue, which can steadily progress to tissue damage and disease. With as many as 500 lymph nodes in the neck, chest, breast and axillary areas, it becomes more evident how maintaining a free flowing lymphatic system aids in the well-being of a woman’s breast.
Additional causes that can compromise the health of the breasts are issues that women are truly becoming aware of; stress, poor diet, poor posture, trauma and even the possibility of excess debris from the lungs becoming lodged in the fatty tissue of the breasts. Even though the current research is inconclusive, there are countless reports linking aluminum based antiperspirants and parabens with the growth of breast cancer cells. Even the bra has come under question, with the underwire and tight fit potentially restricting natural lymph flow.
Today, women are becoming more proactive when it comes to breast health and are changing their dietary and exercise habits in conjunction with taking part in the benefits of massage therapy as part of their wellness protocol. Massage, either by a professional licensed therapist or through self-massage techniques, is looked upon as a foundational treatment for maintaining healthy breast tissue. Techniques used in modalities such as manual lymph drainage, swedish massage or myofascial release can be used effectively to stimulate circulation and loosen the fascia. If the area has soft tissue restrictions, there can be impeded lymphatic drainage blocking the elimination of waste products, ultimately storing them in the breast area.
Not only can massage aid in lymphatic flow, stimulation of circulation, stretching of connective tissue and promoting general relaxation, but recent medical studies support the use of massage for increasing the production of the natural hormone oxytocin. Numerous medical reports show that oxytocin induces significant growth inhibition of breast cancer cells, along with a change in cell phenotype, as well as an ability to remove free radicals associated with cellular metabolic processes.
The techniques used in vacuum therapies are a perfect addition to the previously mentioned modalities (as well as many others) and greatly accelerate the benefits of many types of treatments. Traditional cupping therapy has been used throughout history by many cultures for an assortment of treatments including insect stings, snake bites, respiratory conditions and injury recovery. Breast cupping emerged as a common treatment for lactating dysfunctions such as engorged nipples or inflamed breasts and resulted in the creation of the common breast pump.
Vacuum therapies combine the lifting action with pumping movements to stimulate the lymphatic cleansing process and release any drainage restrictions such as adhesions or scars. This cleansing and opening of drainage pathways aids the breast tissue by decreasing the accumulated waste products that often accompany inflammation and the treatment aids in the rejuvenation of the breast, as well as assisting the body to break down any benign cysts in the area. Vacuum therapies have demonstrated a dramatic detoxifying effect, allowing for a healthy pH of the blood and surrounding tissue.
For those who have had procedures such as lumpectomies, cyst removal and even radical mastectomies, vacuum therapies have such amazing benefits that open up and enhance lymphatic drainage, remove restrictions in lymph flow, posture and movement, and reduce pain and discomfort. Large cone-shaped cups are currently used to prepare patients for reconstructive surgeries, aiding or replacing the need for painful tissue expanders. Women who have breast reductions or enhancements have experienced elimination of unsightly and restrictive scars with gentle vacuum therapy techniques.
Home breast care can easily be done in the shower with a comfortable silicone cup and the treatment can be used over the entire body for overall health and lymphatic drainage. This is such a simple way to offset the restrictions from bras and tight clothing, stress and lifestyle which sometimes cannot be easily changed. All women can reap the benefits of vacuum therapies for breast health and wellness, whether performed at a professional office or for home care because healthy breast tissue is the best defense against breast cancer.