Massage therapy reduced depression, anxiety and anger in women with breast cancer, and increased their levels of dopamine, serotonin, natural killer cells and lymphocytes, according to recent research.

“Breast cancer patients have improved immune and neuroendocrine functions following massage therapy” was conducted by the Touch Research Institutes, Department of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology Clinics, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Department of Medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Thirty-four women with Stage 1 or 2 breast cancer were randomly assigned to either a massage-therapy group or a standard-treatment control group. Each participant had completed radiation or chemotherapy treatment at least three months before the study started.

Women in the massage-therapy group received three 30-minute massages per week for five weeks. The massage involved stroking, squeezing and stretching techniques on the head, arms, legs, feet and back. Women in the control group received standard treatment only, with the option to receive massage after the study.

The State Trait Anxiety Inventory, Profile of Mood States and the Symptom Checklist-90-R were used to evaluate participants’ anxiety and mood at the beginning and end of the study period.

Urine samples were taken from the women on the first and last days of the study, and their blood was drawn.

Results of the urine tests showed that serotonin and dopamine levels for the massage group increased, and the blood tests showed that there was a significant increase in their natural killer (NK) cell numbers and lymphocytes.
“NK cells spontaneously destroy a wide variety of cancer and virus-infected cells and are involved in eliminating metastases,” state the study’s authors. “Lymphocytes are precursor cells of immunological function as well as regulators and effectors of immunity.”

Results of the questionnaires showed that women in the massage-therapy group had reduced anxiety, depression, anger and hostility.

“In the current study, massage therapy was found to be a safe treatment, as no adverse effects were reported, and massage was found to positively impact the psychology, immunology, and biochemistry of women with breast cancer,” state the study’s authors.

“In summary, the self-reports of reduced stress, anxiety, anger/hostility, and improved mood, and the corroborating findings of increased dopamine and serotonin levels and increased NK cell number (the primary outcome measure) and lymphocytes suggest that massage therapy has positive applications for breast cancer survivors.”

Source: The Touch Research Institutes, Department of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology Clinics, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Department of Medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Authors: Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., Gail Ironson, M.D., Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Judith Hurley, M.D., Galia Katz, Miguel Diego, Sharlene Weiss, Ph.D., Mary Ann Fletcher, Ph.D., Saul Schanberg, M.D., Ph.D., and Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D. Originally published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2004.

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