Many cancer centers offer massage, and knowledge of massage for cancer survivors and patients yet there is still a lack of integration between the two.

Many cancer centers offer massage, and knowledge of massage for cancer survivors and patients is growing.

In June, the American Society of Clinical Oncology endorsed an evidence-based guideline created by the Society for Integrative Oncology that recommends complementary therapies, including massage therapy, for cancer patients.

However, a recent study found a lack of integration when it comes to massage therapy and outpatient cancer care.

The Society for Oncology Massage lists more than 130 “Hospitals Incorporating Oncology Massage.” This is just one self-reporting list, meaning that in the U.S. there could be many more clinical settings that incorporate oncology massage.

The study was originally published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork; MASSAGE Magazine obtained the original study from its authors for this report.

Study Design

The study, titled, “Integration of massage therapy in outpatient cancer care,” focused on 62 cancer centers associated with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). According to the study’s authors, “NCI-designated comprehensive and clinical Cancer Centers are considered to be cutting-edge, progressive institutions at the forefront of patient care.”

The researchers used a combination of content analysis and telephone surveys to gather data on the integration of massage for outpatients at these NCI-designated cancer centers. The study’s authors systematically searched each cancer center’s website for any information related to massage, then conducted telephone surveys to compile additional data.

With ratings ranging from zero for “not at all” to five for “very high,” the researchers honed in on five factors pertaining to massage for outpatient cancer care:

  1. Acceptance of treatment as therapeutic;
  2. Institution offers treatment to patients;
  3. Clinical practice guidelines in place;
  4. Use of evidence-based resources to inform treatment; and
  5. Shared knowledge about treatment among health care team.

These five variables served as the basis of an algorithm developed to measure the extent to which massage had been integrated into each center’s outpatient cancer care.

Study Results

Results of the analysis showed 11 of the 62 cancer centers, or about 18 percent, scored very high in terms of the integration of massage for outpatients.

Close to one-third of the cancer centers assessed, or 22 of the 62 programs, had no integration of massage at all, “not even provision of information about massage to patients through the center website.”

“This indicates an opportunity for further dissemination of information about massage research to health care providers and administrators working in cancer care,” the study’s authors conclude.

Among the 62 cancer programs assessed, 34 offered massage for cancer patients. Ten of these programs required physician referral for oncology massage, and another eight requested but did not require physician referral. At the remainder of the 34 of cancer centers where massage was offered, scheduling a session was the responsibility of the patient and the massage practitioner.

About the Author:

The study’s authors are Virginia Cowen and Barbara Tafuto. Sources: Department of Primary Care and Department of Health Informatics, School of Health Professionals, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey. Originally published in March 2018 in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 11(1), 4-10.

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