Healing Touch can decrease pain, improve vitality and increase physical functioning in women undergoing radiation for gynecological or breast cancer, according to recent research.

“Healing Touch and Quality of Life in Women Receiving Radiation Treatment for Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Trial” was conducted by staff at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, and the School of Social Service, St. Louis University, in St. Louis, Missouri.

The study involved 62 women receiving radiation treatment for newly diagnosed gynecological or breast cancer. The women were randomly assigned to receive either Healing Touch or mock treatment, along with standard care, and were blind to their actual group assignment.

Subjects in both groups received a total of six 30-minute sessions; each one took place immediately after radiation treatment. The first session happened no more than one-third of the way through the radiation schedule. The next four sessions happened on a weekly basis, and the last session was given four weeks later.

During the sessions, subjects laid fully clothed on a massage table. A three-by-three-foot opaque screen was placed between the subject’s head and her body so she could not see who was providing the session or what they were doing.

Each Healing Touch session consisted of four phases: healer preparation, such as centering; pretreatment energetic assessment; Healing Touch intervention; and post-treatment energetic assessment.

The mock treatments were provided by laypeople with no training in or knowledge of Healing Touch. These people were instructed to walk around the table and stand at the end of it, keep their hands by their sides, and not focus any thoughts on the subject, but to think of simple math problems.

The study’s primary outcome measure was health-related quality of life, which was assessed before and after the study using the SF-36, a 36-item questionnaire from the Medical Outcomes Study at the Rand Corporation. The SF-36 measures nine health-related areas, such as bodily pain, general mental health, vitality, and limitations in social activities due to physical or emotional problems. Scores range from zero to 100, and higher scores are associated with better functioning.

The overall average score for all subjects at baseline was 53. After intervention, the Healing Touch group had an overall average score of 63.3, whereas the mock-treatment group had an overall average score of 54.3.

The Healing Touch group scored higher than the mock-treatment group in all nine areas of the health-related quality-of-life assessment. Subjects in the Healing Touch group showed statistically significant improvements in pain, vitality and physical functioning.

“Subjects who received Healing Touch demonstrated better [health-related quality of life] following radiation treatment than their counterparts who received mock treatment,” state the study’s authors. “The significant effects of [Healing Touch] on vitality, pain and physical functioning in this study lend support to the potential value of [Healing Touch] in improving the health-related quality of life of women with gynecological or breast cancer who undergo radiation therapy.”

Source: Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, and the School of Social Service, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri. Authors: Cynthia A. Loveland Cook, Ph.D., R.N.; Joanne F. Guerrerio, R.N.; and Victoria E. Slater, Ph.D., R.N. Originally published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 34-40.