A relaxing session with a certified massage therapist appears to help reduce anxiety, pain, fatigue and other types of discomfort in cancer patients, new research reports.
Moreover, patients still continued to feel better 2 days after the massage, the authors note.
Massage therapy is a “noninvasive, pleasant, inexpensive therapy that has the ability to reduce these very serious symptoms for at least 48 hours,” study author Dr. Barrie R. Cassileth of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York told Reuters Health.
She recommended that cancer patients schedule massage therapy sessions “as often as they are comfortable.” Cassileth added that they should only visit a certified, licensed therapist who knows how to care for cancer patients, many of whom may need a lighter touch.
Approximately one fifth of cancer patients in the U.S. use massage therapy to ease some of the ills associated with their disease. The technique is also popular for promoting relaxation, sleep and muscular aches and pains.
To investigate whether massage therapy produces long-lasting benefits, Cassileth and her co-author Dr. Andrew J. Vickers asked 1,290 cancer patients to rate their physical discomfort before and immediately after massage, then 48 hours later.
Patients had their choice of either standard “Swedish” massage, light touch massage or foot massage. The researchers tracked the effects of massage of patients’ pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea and depression.
Cassileth and Vickers found that massage appeared to reduce patients’ symptoms by approximately 50 percent, and patients continued to feel better 48 hours later.
Patients appeared to improve more following light touch or Swedish massage than foot massage, the authors report in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. Outpatients tended to benefit more from massage than inpatients.
Cassileth explained that she fully expected that patients would feel better immediately after the treatment, but was surprised to see these improvements last for days.
She added that many of the problems cancer patients face - such as severe fatigue - have no treatment. Massage therapy is a pleasant and relaxing option with no side effects, and the fact that it helps means a great deal, Cassileth noted.
The researcher said that Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers massage therapy, as well as training courses for licensed therapists who want to learn how to treat cancer patients, and for family members who want to learn how to administer a gentle massage to patients at home.
SOURCE: Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, September 2004.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.