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Study shows benefits of massage therapy to ease cancer fatigue

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., have seen how massage therapy can help reduce fatigue in breast cancer patients.

The study was part of a series of clinical trials at Emory to study the biological benefits of massage therapy.

October 10, 2018  By Massage Therapy Canada staff

Previous research conducted by Mark Hyman Rapaport, MD, Reunette W. Harris professor and chair of Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, has already shown that massage therapy can boost the immune system and decrease anxiety for people who do not have cancer.

“We decided to look at massage therapy for cancer fatigue because cancer-related fatigue is one of the most prevalent and debilitating symptoms experienced by people with cancer,” explained Rapaport, principle investigator for this study and a member of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. “Many studies investigating massage for patients with cancer have been focused on depression, anxiety or pain.”

The Emory cancer fatigue study is a collaboration between the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory. Mylin Torres, MD, associate professor in Emory’s Department of Radiation Oncology, serves as a co-investigator. Torres specializes in the treatment of breast cancer as a physician-scientist with Winship’s Glenn Family Breast Center. She sees her patients at Winship Cancer Institute on the Emory campus.

“We already know that frequent massage can enhance the immune system and reduce anxiety, and it has been reported that massage therapy can stimulate energy, and reduce symptoms such as nausea and pain,” said Torres. 


Participants in the study were post-surgery breast cancer patients, between the ages of 18 and 65, who had been treated with standard chemotherapy, chemoprevention and/or radiation, and suffered with cancer-related fatigue. They were between six months and four years post treatment. Researchers enrolled a total of 57 patients over the course of the study.

During six weeks of treatments, participants were assigned to one of three study groups: six weeks of a once-a-week Swedish massage, six weeks of once- a-week light touch massage or a six-week wait period, followed by six weeks of either light touch or Swedish massage. Certified massage therapists from the Atlanta School of Massage performed the massages.

Over the course of the treatment visits, information needed to assess the effect of the study was gathered through a variety of measures. Vital signs, such as pulse and blood pressure were taken at each visit, and at three of the six study visits a small amount of blood was used to check for levels of immune markers. The study staff asked questions about such things as life stressors, medical health and the use of medicine and other substances. Participants also fill out a questionnaire on fatigue and quality of life.

Ultimately the researchers found that Swedish massage theraoy produced clinically significant relief of cancer-related fatigue. The authors concluded that six weeks of a safe, widely accepted manual intervention caused a significant reduction in fatigue.

More than 50 percent of patients with cancer have used a complementary and alternative medicine approach for symptom management and to improve quality of life, according to the researchers. Scientific studies like this are needed to identify alternative treatments that work for these patients.

An updated story to the original source: Emory News Center

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