Massage for symptom relief in patients with cancer: systematic review

J Adv Nurs. 2008 Sep;63(5):430-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04712.x.


Aim: This paper is a report of a review to assess evidence of the effectiveness of massage for patients with cancer, in terms of reducing physical or psychological symptoms, improving quality of life, or producing unwanted side effects.

Background: Patients with cancer may use complementary therapies, including massage and aromatherapy massage. However, their use and provision by state-financed healthcare services is controversial.

Data sources: A systematic review was carried out, using the Cochrane principles. No meta-analysis was appropriate. An initial comprehensive search of electronic databases search was carried out in 2003 and updated in 2006. Eligible trials were randomized controlled trials, controlled before-and-after (pre-post) studies and interrupted time-series studies. Participants were adults with a diagnosis of cancer and receiving care in any healthcare setting. Interventions were limited to massage and/or aromatherapy massage carried out by a qualified therapist. Outcome measures to be included were patient-reported levels of physical and psychological indices of symptom distress and quality of life (measured using validated assessment tools).

Findings: In the review, 1325 papers were considered. Ten trials met the inclusion criteria and their results suggest that massage might reduce anxiety in patients with cancer in the short term and may have a beneficial effect on physical symptoms of cancer, such as pain and nausea. However, the lack of rigorous research evidence precludes drawing definitive conclusions.

Conclusion: Further well-designed large trials with longer follow-up periods are needed to be able to draw firm conclusions about the efficacy and effectiveness of massage for cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Humans
  • Massage*
  • Neoplasms / nursing*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Pain Management
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic