Children with cancer who received massage therapy experienced decreased pain, nausea, stress and anxiety, along with an increase in white blood cells and neutrophils, according to a review of seven published studies on massage and childhood cancer.

Children with cancer who received massage therapy experienced decreased pain, nausea, stress and anxiety, along with an increase in white blood cells and neutrophils, according to a review of seven published studies on massage and childhood cancer.

The review, “Effects of the application of therapeutic massage in children with cancer: a systematic review,” involved an analysis of seven clinical trials focused on the effects of massage therapy on children with cancer.

The children in these studies ranged in age from 6 months to 18 years and had been diagnosed with cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, sarcomas, lymphomas and brain tumors.

The main massage modality used in the seven studies was Swedish massage. Effleurage, petrissage, friction and compression were applied in varying combinations and with varying degrees of pressure.

The areas of focus for the massage tended to be the back, hands, legs and feet. In most of the studies, the massage sessions were provided by an experienced practitioner, with the exception of one study where the children’s parents provided the massage.

Depending on the study, each massage session was either 15, 20 or 30 minutes. The number of massage sessions differed from study to study as well, ranging from a total of three massage sessions to one session a day for one month with varying intervention schedules in between.

As far as when these sessions took place, this spanned the spectrum from parental massage 15 minutes before bed each night for more than a month to 20 minutes of massage before and 24 hours after each of three chemotherapy treatments.

Outcome measures in the seven studies were symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatment, including pain, nausea, stress, anxiety, low white blood cell count and low neutrophils. Results of the review showed massage therapy had an overall beneficial effect on these symptoms.

“Based on published studies, the effects of therapeutic massage in children with cancer receiving chemotherapy and other treatments show a decrease in pain, nausea, vomiting, post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, and an increase in white blood cells and neutrophils,” state the authors of the review. “Further research is needed to observe benefits, establish protocols and extrapolate results to improve the quality of life of these patients.”

Authors: Juan Rodríguez-Mansilla, Blanca González-Sánchez, Silvia Torres-Piles, Jorge Guerrero Martín, María Jiménez-Palomares and Macarena Núñez Bellino.

Sources: School of Medicine and School of Nursing and Occupational Therapy, University of Extremadura, Spain. Originally published online in June 2017 in Revista Latino-Americana de Enfermagem.

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