Role of massage therapy in cancer care

J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Mar;14(2):209-14. doi: 10.1089/acm.2007.7176.


The care of patients with cancer not only involves dealing with its symptoms but also with complicated information and uncertainty; isolation; and fear of disease progression, disease recurrence, and death. Patients whose treatments require them to go without human contact can find a lack of touch to be an especially distressing factor. Massage therapy is often used to address these patients' need for human contact, and findings support the positive value of massage in cancer care. Several reviews of the scientific literature have attributed numerous positive effects to massage, including improvements in the quality of patients' relaxation, sleep, and immune system responses and in the relief of their fatigue, pain, anxiety, and nausea. On the basis of these reviews, some large cancer centers in the United States have started to integrate massage therapy into conventional settings. In this paper, we recognize the importance of touch, review findings regarding massage for cancer patients, describe the massage therapy program in one of these centers, and outline future challenges and implications for the effective integration of massage therapy in large and small cancer centers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Depression / therapy
  • Fatigue / therapy
  • Humans
  • Massage / methods*
  • Nausea / therapy
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Pain Management
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Quality of Life*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Therapeutic Touch / methods*