Massage in patients undergoing intensive chemotherapy reduces serum cortisol and prolactin

Psychooncology. 2008 Oct;17(10):1024-31. doi: 10.1002/pon.1331.


Objective: The objective is to identify whether single 20 min massage sessions were safe and effective in reducing stress levels of isolated haematological oncology patients.

Design: Based on a randomised controlled trial, 39 patients were randomised to aromatherapy, massage or rest (control) arm.

Measures: The measures were serum cortisol and prolactin levels, quality of life (EORTC QLQ-C30) and semi-structured interviews. Primary outcome measure was the fall in serum cortisol levels.

Results: A significant difference was seen between arms in cortisol (P=0.002) and prolactin (p=0.031) levels from baseline to 30 min post-session. Aromatherapy and massage arms showed a significantly greater drop in cortisol than the rest arm. Only the massage arm had a significantly greater reduction in prolactin then the rest arm. The EORTC QLQ-C30 showed a significant reduction in 'need for rest' for patients in both experimental arms compared with the control arm, whereas the semi-structured interviews identified a universal feeling of relaxation in patients in the experimental arms.

Conclusion: This pilot study demonstrated that in isolated haematological oncology patients, a significant reduction in cortisol could be safely achieved through massage, with associated improvement in psychological well-being. The implications are discussed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aromatherapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Leukemia / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Massage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prolactin / blood*
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Rest
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Prolactin
  • Hydrocortisone