Objectives: Women with breast cancer are at risk for elevated depression, anxiety, and decreased natural killer (NK) cell number. Stress has been linked to increased tumor development by decreasing NK cell activity. The objectives of this study included examining massage therapy for women with breast cancer for (1) improving mood and biological measures associated with mood enhancement (serotonin, dopamine), (2) reducing stress and stress hormone levels, and (3) boosting immune measures.
Methods: Thirty-four women (M age=53) diagnosed with Stage 1 or 2 breast cancer were randomly assigned postsurgery to a massage therapy group (to receive 30-min massages three times per week for 5 weeks) or a control group. The massage consisted of stroking, squeezing, and stretching techniques to the head, arms, legs/feet, and back. On the first and last day of the study, the women were assessed on (1) immediate effects measures of anxiety, depressed mood, and vigor and (2) longer term effects on depression, anxiety and hostility, functioning, body image, and avoidant versus intrusive coping style, in addition to urinary catecholamines (norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine) and serotonin levels. A subset of 27 women (n=15 massage) had blood drawn to assay immune measures.
Results: The immediate massage therapy effects included reduced anxiety, depressed mood, and anger. The longer term massage effects included reduced depression and hostility and increased urinary dopamine, serotonin values, NK cell number, and lymphocytes.
Conclusions: Women with Stage 1 and 2 breast cancer may benefit from thrice-weekly massage therapy for reducing depressed mood, anxiety, and anger and for enhancing dopamine, serotonin, and NK cell number and lymphocytes.