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The effects of oncology massage on symptom self-report for cancer patients and their caregivers



Massage has shown benefit for symptomatic relief in cancer patients and their caregivers. We explored the effects of a single massage session on self-reported symptoms in an outpatient clinic at a comprehensive cancer center.


Patients and caregivers receiving oncology massage treatments (30 or 60-min duration) at our Integrative Medicine Center outpatient clinic from September 2012 to January 2015 completed the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS; 0–10 scale, 10 most severe) pre and post massage. ESAS individual items and subscales of physical distress (PHS), psychological distress (PSS), and global distress (GDS) were analyzed. We used paired t tests with a p value correction (i.e., p < .001) to examine symptoms pre/post massage.


Initial massage visits for 343 patients and 87 caregivers were analyzed. The highest symptom burdens (means) at baseline for patients were sleep 4.22, fatigue 3.57, and pain 2.94; for caregivers, sleep 3.77, well-being 3.01, and pain 2.59. Although patients reported significantly greater global distress and physical symptoms (p < .0001) compared to caregivers at baseline, groups did not differ in regard to psychological symptom burden (p = .66) and individual symptom scores (e.g., pain, sleep, spiritual pain). Massage therapy was associated with statistically (p < .0001) and clinically significant improvements in symptoms of pain, fatigue, anxiety, well-being, and sleep and ESAS subscales for both patients and caregivers. Greater massage duration (30 vs 60 min) did not lead to greater symptom reduction.


Patients and caregivers reported a moderately high symptom burden. A single massage treatment resulted in acute relief of self-reported symptoms in both groups. Further study is warranted regarding optimal massage dose and frequency.

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The contribution of our oncology massage therapists: Sat-Siri Sumler and Curtiss Beinhorn, for delivery of the massage intervention. This work was supported by a grant from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment, and partial support for Lorenzo Cohen was provided by the Richard E. Haynes Distinguished Professorship in Clinical Cancer Prevention.

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Correspondence to Lorenzo Cohen.

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Lopez, G., Liu, W., Milbury, K. et al. The effects of oncology massage on symptom self-report for cancer patients and their caregivers. Support Care Cancer 25, 3645–3650 (2017).

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  • Integrative medicine
  • Oncology massage
  • Complementary medicine
  • Patient-reported outcomes
  • Edmonton Symptom Assessment System