Treatment options for women with breast cancer include surgery, radiation, hormone therapy and chemotherapy. While these treatments are intended to help defeat the overall battle against breast cancer, they can also produce side effects such as numbness, pain, nausea, fatigue and weakness.

One of the most common side effects in patients undergoing chemotherapy is nausea. In the study “Massage Relieves Nausea in Women with Breast Cancer Who Are Undergoing Chemotherapy,” researchers from The Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University in Göteborg, Sweden, examined the effects of skin massage, or effleurage, on nausea, anxiety and depression in women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. The randomized, controlled study was conducted in an oncology clinic in a hospital in southwestern Sweden.

Thirty-nine women with breast cancer scheduled to undergo chemotherapy were enlisted in the study. Nineteen of the participants received massage, while the remaining 20 were placed in a control group without massage.
Five massage sessions were given to the massage group. The 20-minute massages consisted of soft strokes, and patients were able to choose the location of their massages—between the foot and lower leg, or between the hand and lower arm.

Instead of receiving massage, the control group was visited by a hospital staff member for 20 minutes. During this time, the staff member conversed with the patient about any topic.

Before and after each massage session, patients recorded nausea and anxiety on the Visual Analogue Scale (VAS). They were also evaluated on a Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HAD) before the first and last intervention.
Results of the study showed that massage lowered nausea in women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. However, the study did not find any effect of massage on depression or anxiety.

The researchers concluded, “New ways to limit the side effects of chemotherapy are crucial because breast cancer, and consequently, the use of chemotherapy, is increasing.”

Although the study indicated massage can be useful in lowering nausea in patients with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy, the researchers suggested further studies with larger samples be conducted to confirm the findings.
Source: The Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University in Göteborg, Sweden. Authors: Annika Billhult, M.Sc., R.P.T.; Ingegerd Bergbom, Ph.D., R.N.; and Elisabet Stener-Victorin, Ph.D., R.P.T. Originally published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. January 2007, Vol. 13, No. 1: pp.53–58.