Massage therapy for patients with metastatic cancer: a pilot randomized controlled trial

J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Jul;19(7):650-6. doi: 10.1089/acm.2012.0466. Epub 2013 Jan 31.


Objectives: The study objectives were to determine the feasibility and effects of providing therapeutic massage at home for patients with metastatic cancer.

Design: This was a randomized controlled trial.

Settings/location: Patients were enrolled at Oncology Clinics at a large urban academic medical center; massage therapy was provided in patients' homes.

Subjects: Subjects were patients with metastatic cancer.

Interventions: There were three interventions: massage therapy, no-touch intervention, and usual care.

Outcome measures: Primary outcomes were pain, anxiety, and alertness; secondary outcomes were quality of life and sleep.

Results: In this study, it was possible to provide interventions for all patients at home by professional massage therapists. The mean number of massage therapy sessions per patient was 2.8. A significant improvement was found in the quality of life of the patients who received massage therapy after 1-week follow-up, which was not observed in either the No Touch control or the Usual Care control groups, but the difference was not sustained at 1 month. There were trends toward improvement in pain and sleep of the patients after therapeutic massage but not in patients in the control groups. There were no serious adverse events related to the interventions.

Conclusions: The study results showed that it is feasible to provide therapeutic massage at home for patients with advanced cancer, and to randomize patients to a no-touch intervention. Providing therapeutic massage improves the quality of life at the end of life for patients and may be associated with further beneficial effects, such as improvement in pain and sleep quality. Larger randomized controlled trials are needed to substantiate these findings.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Boston
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Home Care Services
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / therapy*
  • Pain Measurement / psychology
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Sleep