Nearly 60% of all patients being treated for cancer receive radiation. The radiation may be in combination with chemotherapy and surgery or used as an individual treatment. The strength of radiation varies for individuals and their diagnosis. What many patients are unaware of is the formation of scar tissue that often occurs post treatment.
What is Scar Tissue?
Scar tissue is a thicker, less pliable tissue than normal muscle and fascia tissue. It tends to feel “stiff” in the area where the scar tissue forms and is often painful to varying degrees. Scar tissue forms within 6 months of stopping radiation, with the majority forming between 3 months to 6 months post radiation. In some cases it can continue to grow even after 6 months. Depending on where the radiation is being given, sometimes, you are given exercises to do while receiving radiation to keep the area flexible. This is common in head and neck cancers that are being radiated.
Women who have had radiation to their breasts often feel a tightness, stiffness and “tender to touch” feeling and a hardening of tissue in their breast. Only after a doctor has confirmed that the area is indeed scar tissue should you proceed with scar tissue therapy. Much can be done to help break down this thick tissue. Some of it will break down naturally with movement but often, additional treatment is necessary.
When working with your massage therapist for scar tissue reduction, the treatment should be very interactive. A constant monitoring of pain level and pressure level is necessary. Many women do not have full feeling in their breasts after surgery, so it is especially important for the therapist to be aware of this.
Also, lymphadema precautions need to be taken when necessary. Almost all of my patients notice a difference with the first treatment. The treatment is usually very direct with quick results. I like to begin with some lymphatic drainage, then warming up the breast with some gentle effleurage and circular kneading. I use slightly warm basalt rocks to warm the scar tissue, and then begin more intricate work on smaller sections of the breast. Much of the work is repetitive friction, kneading and lymphatic drainage. The most common response is some slight pain the next day followed by a release that allows for a feeling of less restriction and greater range of motion in the area.
I am an advocate of teaching my patients how to work on their scar tissue at home. This makes each visit to me more effective with greater results. It normally takes several treatments to break down the bulk of the scar tissue, and once under control, it is still a good idea to have follow-ups every 6 months or so, as the scar tissue does often return.