Chemotherapy can often result in fatigue, nausea, and sleep disruption. From a personal perspective, I experienced debilitating fatigue and actually questioned my oncologist as to whether massage would help. At that time, 5 years ago, there was no supportive data that this complementary therapy was effective. That’s now changed.
A study by Jun Mao and colleagues, published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, reports on the development, implementation, and evaluation of a clinical oncology massage program for patients undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.1
In 2015 the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center piloted an oncology massage program. Patients were offered a modified form of massage provided by trained oncology massage therapists in the chemotherapy suite. The goal of the study was to evaluate short-term effects on anxiety, pain, nausea, and fatigue.
The project required joining stakeholders from the nonprofit sector, academic research, and patient care clinicians. A detailed plan, timeline, contracts, and survey tools were developed. A 24-hour credit course for the oncology massage technique was approved by the Society for Oncology Massage.
The patients completed a short assessment and feedback utilizing a modified version of the Distress Thermometer—a well-validated tool to assess distress among patients. The participants used touch screen technology that allowed them to slide the thermometer across the screen to indicate their level of distress. Each thermometer addressed the symptoms of anxiety, nausea, pain, and fatigue. The pre and post data were analyzed using a paired t-test.
Of the 1,090 massages offered, 692 (63%) were accepted by patients. Those who declined the massages indicated the following reasons: lack of interest (36%), time concerns (33%), and preference not to be touched (7.9%).
The following premassage and postmassage results were noted, respectively, measured by a symptom score scale of 1–10:
- Anxiety decreased from 3.9 to 1.7.
- Nausea decreased from 2.5 to 1.2.
- Pain decreased from 3.3 to 1.9.
- Fatigue decreased from 4.8 to 3.0.
The patient comments reflect that 93% were satisfied or very satisfied, and 94% would recommend the massage to another patient. This integrative massage program for patients with breast cancer produced significant immediate symptom improvement in pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, and an increase in relaxation. Further research is needed to evaluate the reduced need for medications and improved adherence to chemotherapy.
As nurses, we can start small by sharing these results with our own cancer committee members or even with your oncology director. Can we partner with nonprofit organizations and cancer groups to explore the use of massage for our cancer patients? Can we seek volunteers to explore and write grants to cover the cost of this complementary therapy. I, for one, plan to discuss these results with my oncologist and be a change agent to put this therapy into practice.
What are the thoughts of our colleagues?
- Mao JJ, Wagner KE, Seluzicki CM, et al. Integrating Oncology Massage Into Chemoinfusion Suites: A Program Evaluation. J Oncol Pract. 2017 Jan 3.