Massage is a safe and effective way to provide immediate relief to patients with advanced cancer

PHILADELPHIA, September 16, 2008 — A new study from the National Institutes of Health finds that massage therapy may have immediate benefits on pain and mood among patients with advanced cancer. The study appears in the September 16, 2008 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

In a randomized trial of 380 advanced cancer patients at 15 U.S. hospices, improvement in pain and mood immediately following treatment was greater with massage than with simple touch.

“When patients near the end of life, the goals of medical care change from trying to cure disease to making the patient as comfortable as possible,” said Jean S. Kutner, MD, MSPH, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. “This study is important because it shows massage is a safe and effective way to provide immediate relief to patients with advanced cancer.”

Pain and depressed mood are common problems for patients with advanced cancer. While drug therapies can reduce symptoms, they don’t always work and often have troublesome side effects. Researchers think that massage may interrupt the cycle of distress, offering brief physical and psychological benefits. Physically, massage may decrease inflammation and edema, increase blood and lymphatic circulation, and relax muscle spasms. Psychologically, massage may promote relaxation, release endorphins, and create a positive experience that distracts temporarily from pain and depression.

Researchers caution that while massage may offer some immediate relief for patients with advanced cancer, the effects do not last over time, demonstrating the need for more effective strategies to manage pain at the end of life.