sleep quality for teen cancer patients

To complement the Research Reports in the April 2016 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.

A massage therapy intervention to help promote sleep among hospitalized adolescent oncology patients was found to be both feasible and well-received, with the potential for improving sleep quality among young patients, according to recent research.

The study, “Pilot study of massage to improve sleep and fatigue in hospitalized adolescents with cancer,” involved 34 adolescents ages 12 to 21 with a diagnosis of cancer, all of whom were expected to be in the hospital for at least four nights in a row. The mean age of the patients was around 15 to 16 years. Leukemia was the most common cancer diagnosis among them, and chemotherapy was the most common reason for their admission to the hospital.


Nightly Massage Intervention

Adolescents who agreed to participate in the study were randomly assigned to either the massage intervention group or a control group. Those in the control group were placed on a waitlist to receive massage and received only standard care during the study. Adolescents in the intervention group received one massage per night for two to three nights.

The nine massage therapists who performed the intervention for this study each had a minimum of 40 hours of oncology massage training, including at least 16 hours of pediatric-specific oncology massage training, along with a minimum of 500 hours of standard massage therapy education. During the massage sessions, which lasted between 20 and 30 minutes, the practitioners used mostly Swedish massage and tailored the routines to needs of each patient.


Improvements in Sleep Quality

The main outcome measures in this study were sleep quality, fatigue, mood and anxiety. Sleep was monitored using actigraphy, whereas fatigue, mood and anxiety were assessed via patient and proxy reports. The overarching aim of the pilot study was to determine whether it would be feasible to provide massage to promote sleep among hospitalized adolescent oncology patients.

Results of the research revealed nearly 80 percent of patients who were asked to participate in the study agreed to do so, and 94 percent of them received at least one massage, whereas 69 percent of them received two.

According to the researchers, this demonstrates high feasibility for a massage intervention of this kind. In addition, the study’s authors reported that “participant and parent feedback on the intervention was positive and was the impetus for starting a clinical massage service at the hospital.”

As for outcome measures, data analysis showed a trend toward increased sleep among the adolescents who received massage. However, there were no significant differences between the massage group and the control group in the self-reported measures of fatigue, mood and anxiety.

“Performing nightly massage for hospitalized patients is feasible, well-received and can potentially improve patients’ sleep,” the researchers concluded. “A randomized multicenter efficacy study is warranted to further evaluate the effects of this relatively low-cost and safe intervention for improving the quality of lives of adolescents who must be in the hospital for cancer treatments.”


About the Study’s Authors

Authors: Shana Jacobs, Catriona Mowbray, Lauren Muster Cates, Allison Baylor, Christopher Gable, Elizabeth Skora, Monica Estrada, Yao Cheng, Jichuan Wang, Daniel Lewin and Pamela Hinds.

Sources: Division of Oncology, Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, Division of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, Department of Nursing Research and Quality Outcomes Center for Translational Science, Children’s National Health System, Washington, D.C.; Healwell, Arlington, Virginia; Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia; Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Originally published online in January 2016 in Pediatric Blood & Cancer.