Therapeutic massage is increasingly used in medical treatment programs to reduce symptoms, improve coping, and enhance quality of life 1,2. Cancer patients use therapeutic massage to improve symptom control and their personal sense of wellbeing.
The largest published report on therapeutic massage is a prospective, nonrandomized, observational study of patients treated at the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York City 3. That study evaluated changes in symptom scores for pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety, nausea, and depression. Participants included 1290 cancer patients and 12 licensed massage therapists. Three variations of massage (selected mainly by the patients) were used: Swedish, light touch, and foot massage. The main outcome measures were data from symptom cards collected by independent observers that were recorded before and after the first session of massage. Symptom scores declined in severity by approximately 50%. Swedish and light touch massage were found to be superior to foot massage. However, the effects of massage were short-term.
This intriguing observational study illustrates many of the challenges in the research into therapeutic massage. The results indicated that the size of the effect for massage in cancer patients is clinically important.