Aromatherapy massage reduced anxiety among women with breast cancer and increased type 1 and type 2 helper T cells in the blood, according to recent research.

The study, “Anxiolytic Effect of Aromatherapy Massage in Patients with Breast Cancer,” involved 12 breast-cancer patients and took place throughout a period of about three months. The first month, prior to any massage sessions, served as the control period, followed by four weeks of massage and a one-month follow-up period.

Subjects in the study ranged in age from 45 to 58 years old, and each was six months to three years post-surgery for breast cancer. Participants all had received chemotherapy and/or hormonal treatment, but at least one month had passed since the completion of these treatments. Women with recurrence of cancer or marked edema were excluded from the study.

One month before receiving the first aromatherapy massage, the psychological state of the subjects was measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the Profile of Mood States (POMS). These tests were repeated immediately before and after the first, fifth and eighth massage session, as well as one month after the last massage.
In addition, blood samples were taken for each participant, in order to measure any immune-system response to the massage. This was done one month before the massage sessions began; immediately before the first, fifth and eighth massage; and one month after the sessions ended.

The aromatherapy massage used jojoba, sweet orange, lavender and sandalwood oils. The bodywork took place twice a week for four weeks, for a total of eight half-hour sessions. Massage therapists performed the same standardized massage on each subject, focusing on the anterior area of the neck and thorax, back, shoulders, arms, hands and upper legs.
Results of the research revealed a gradual, significant decrease in anxiety among participants both short- and long-term—immediately before the last massage and also one month after the bodywork ended. The study showed a significant, lasting reduction in aggression and hostility as well.

In terms of immune-system response, the blood samples showed a significant increase in type 1 and type 2 helper T cells after the eighth aromatherapy massage.

“Although it is hard to interpret these results theoretically, it is possible that aromatherapy massage affects the immune system,” state the study’s authors. “Our results suggest that aromatherapy massage is a viable complementary therapy that significantly reduces anxiety in breast-cancer patients.”

Source: Department of Microbiology, Department of Endocrine and Breast Surgery, Department of Psychiatry, Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, Kyoto, Japan; Department of Psychosomatic Internal Medicine, Kansai Medical University, Osaka, Japan; and Department of Psychology, Kyoto Notre Dame University, Kyoto, Japan.

Authors: Jiro Imanishi, Hiroko Kuriyama, Ichiro Shigemori, Satoko Watanabe, Yuka Aihara, Masakazu Kita, Kiyoshi Sawai, Hiroo Nakajima, Noriko Yoshida, Mashiro Kunisawa, Masanori Kawase and Kenji Fukui. Originally published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, April 2008.