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.