A study of the long-term effects of massage and aromatherapy on the physical and psychological symptoms of patients with advanced cancer showed that the intervention significantly improved subjects’ quality of sleep, but provided only short-term benefits for pain and anxiety.

“A randomized controlled trial of aromatherapy massage in a hospice setting” was conducted by staff at Princess Alice Hospice, in Esher, Surrey, United Kingdom; the North Surrey Primary Care Trust, in Surrey, United Kingdom; and The Royal Marsden Hospital, in Sutton, Surrey, United Kingdom.

Forty-two subjects diagnosed with cancer were randomly assigned to receive either massage with lavender essential oil and an inert carrier oil; massage with an inert carrier oil only; or no massage.

Subjects in the massage groups received a 30-minute standardized back massage once a week for four weeks. Subjects in the no-massage group – the control group – completed the researchers’ questionnaires and assessments, but received no intervention.

Evaluations took place at the beginning and end of the study, using a Visual Analogue Scale and a Modified Tursky Pain Descriptors Scale for pain intensity; the Verran and Snyder-Halpern sleep scale; the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale; and the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist.

Evaluations of pain, sleep and the Hospital and Anxiety Depression scale also took place on a weekly basis.
Results of the study showed that subjects in both massage groups had significantly better sleep scores than subjects in the control group at the end of the study.

“Our results suggest that aromatherapy and massage may have a beneficial effect on sleep quality in patients with advanced cancer,” state the study’s authors.

The study also showed a statistically significant reduction in pain for both the massage groups following the second massage treatment, but no long-term pain reduction at the end of the study.

There were no statistically significant long-term differences among groups for either the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale or the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist. Subjects in the massage-only group, however, had significantly better scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale after the second and fourth massage sessions.

“In this study, we did not set physical or psychological entrance criteria and patients were, therefore, recruited with varying levels of pain, sleep difficulties, anxiety and other symptoms,” state the study’s authors. “These findings suggest that if the inclusion criteria were refined, the measurable benefits of treatment may be greater.”

Source: Princess Alice Hospice, in Esher, Surrey, United Kingdom; North Surrey Primary Care Trust, in Surrey, United Kingdom; The Royal Marsden Hospital, in Sutton, Surrey, United Kingdom. Authors: Katie Soden, Karen Vincent, Stephen Craske, Caroline Lucas and Sue Ashley. Originally published in Palliative Medicine, 2004, No. 18, pp. 87-92.

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