Massage Therapy Beneficial in Oncology Care

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Recent studies show massage therapy can reduce pain, stress, nausea, depression, distress, anxiety and fatigue, while improving health related quality of life for cancer patients.1

According to the Mayo Clinic, one in three patients undergoing cancer treatment experiences cancer-related pain.2 Pain may be the result of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, or a symptom of cancer growth, which can destroy tissue and add pressure on nerves, bones and organs.

A recent meta-analysis of nearly 600 cancer patients found massage therapy significantly reduced pain compared to the conventional standard-of-care alone, and was particularly effective in eradicating surgery-related pain.3

“Integrating massage therapy into treatment plans has been shown to greatly reduce cancer-related pain,” said Jeff Smoot, President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).  “Relieving part of the physical manifestation of disease allows patients to more closely focus on their rehabilitation and recovery.”

Increased Quality of Life

While massage therapy is highly effective in soothing physical ailments, its benefits extend into many other areas.

A 2014 study of patients with acute myelogenous leukemia who received 50 minutes of Swedish massage three times per week for seven weeks, found all participants experienced stress reduction, increased comfort and relaxation, while also tracking health-related quality of life (HQoL) compared to a group of usual standard-of-care patients. The HQoL scales were comprised of five functional scales (physical, role, cognitive, emotional and social) as well as two symptom scales (fatigue and nausea) and the global QoL scale, finding statistically significant increases in quality of life, when controlling for both stress and anxiety.1

An additional randomized study found providing therapeutic massage resulted in significant improvement in short-term quality of life for patients near the end of life, with secondary benefits of pain reduction and improved sleep. 4

“Massage therapy can supply immense physical and psychological relief,” said Dr. Gabriel Lopez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. “As evidenced by the wealth of positive research in the area, massage therapy has the potential to greatly improve quality of life for cancer patients and their caregivers.”

Related: Cancer & Massage Therapy: Essential Contraindications | 2.5 Credit Hours

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1. Taylor AG, Snyder AE, Anderson JG et al. Gentle Massage Improves Disease- and Treatment-Related Symptoms in Patients with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. J Clin Trials. 2014; 4:1000161.
2. Moynihan, Timothy J. “Cancer pain: Relief is possible.” Mayo Clinic. 2014 Oct; 
3. Lee SH, Kim JY, Kim SH et al. Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy on Cancer Pain. Integr Cancer Ther. 2015 Jul;14(4):297-304.
4. Toth M, Marcantionio ER, Davis RB et al. Massage Therapy for Patients with Metastatic Cancer: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. J. Altern Complement Med. 2013 Jul; 19(7): 650-656.

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