In a recent pilot study, researchers found that both reiki and relaxation response therapy (RRT) had a positive effect on anxiety and quality of life among men receiving external beam radiotherapy (EBRx) for prostate cancer.

The study, “Effects of Complementary Therapies on Clinical Outcomes in Patients Being Treated with Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer,” involved 54 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Subjects in the study had a median age of 64 years. None were receiving chemotherapy, and all of them were undergoing EBRx. Men who were receiving ongoing psychotherapy, taking antidepressive medications or who had previous experience with reiki or RRT were excluded from the study.

The 54 participants were randomly assigned to either the reiki group, the RRT group or a wait-list control group. Anxiety, depression and quality of life were the main outcome measures for the study. These items were evaluated at the time of randomization, then again after four and eight weeks of radiation therapy, as well as eight to 12 weeks after the radiation ended.

EBRx took place five days a week for eight or nine weeks, and each of these radiation appointments lasted around 15 minutes. Both the reiki and RRT sessions were scheduled on the same days as the radiation therapy, and these interventions typically took place right before EBRx.

Men assigned to the reiki group received two 50-minute sessions of reiki per week for eight weeks. During each session, the subject would lay on a massage table while the reiki therapist, with the intent of balancing the subject’s chi, or energy, placed her hands on 12 designated areas. A standard routine was used to limit variability.

Men in the RRT group attended two of these intervention sessions per week for eight weeks. Each session lasted one hour and was led by a psychologist. RRT began with the psychologist guiding the subject to relax, followed by cognitive restructuring using five standardized steps, with the goal of helping the patient develop skills to cope with stress and negative thoughts. Men in the RRT group were encouraged to practice these skills daily between sessions and record them in a home journal.

According to the researchers, this study was not powered to obtain statistically significant results, but rather to identify trends toward certain clinical responses. In both the reiki and RRT groups, researchers discovered trends toward decreased anxiety and improved quality of life. When looking specifically at subjects who were anxious at baseline, the trends toward decreased anxiety were even more pronounced.

“A larger study to verify and better define the benefits of these therapies in men with prostate cancer is warranted,” conclude the authors of this study.

Authors: Clair Beard, William B. Stason, Qian Wang, Judith Manola, Elizabeth Dean-Clower, Jeffery A. Dusek, Susan DeCristofaro, Ann Webster, Anne M. Doherty-Gilman, David S. Rosenthal and Herbert Benson.

Sources: Department of Radiation Oncology, Dana Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, Boston, Massachusetts; Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts; Department of Biostatistics, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts; Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts; and Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts. Originally published Cancer (January 1, 2011) 96-102.