Massage therapy uses manual manipulation of soft tissue, including muscle and connective tissue, to improve well-being. This can be done in a relaxing or rehabilitative setting. Massage therapy has been studied as a methodology to improve cancer or treatment-related symptoms and overall quality of life, particularly among patients with breast cancer.
Cancer or Treatment-Related Symptoms
Multiple small randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have evaluated the effect of massage on breast cancer related symptoms and quality of life, but the results are mixed. A meta-analysis that included 18 RCTs with 950 patients found that regular massage significantly improved anger and fatigue. Anxiety, however, was found to be significantly improved. Several individual RCTs showed that massage improved anxiety, anger, and depressed mood immediately after the session compared with control, with some benefits persisting after massage therapy ended, such as less hostility and reduced depression and anger. One study found that five twenty minute massage visits significantly reduced nausea compared with control, but there was no difference observed in levels of anxiety or depression. Some RCTs evaluated the effect of massage on the immune system. One study of ten twenty minute effleurage massage visits found that massage therapy increased natural killer cells, NK cell and lymphocyte numbers by the end of the study. Massage therapy was also found to ameliorate the NK cell deterioration associated with radiation therapy. Massage therapy was found to improve quality of life measures and symptom concerns. Markers of stress, such as cortisol levels and blood pressure, were improved in some studies. According to a subjective study, patients with breast cancer who received massage therapy reported that they felt relaxed, cared for, and a general sense of well-being. Patients also noted that massage provided a distraction from the anxiety of chemotherapy.
Studies have shown that massage therapy can be beneficial for cancer patients both during and following treatment. Massage therapy can counteract many of the negative physical and emotional symptoms of cancer and side effects of cancer treatment for patients. More and more cancer patients are interested in finding ways to enhance their conventional treatment with complementary therapy options, including massage therapy.
Some of the potential benefits of massage therapy as a complementary treatment for cancer patients: