Background: Patients with colorectal cancer are usually treated with chemotherapy, which reduces the number of blood cells, especially white blood cells, and consequently increases the risk of infections. Some research studies have reported that aromatherapy massage affects the immune system and improves immune function by, for example, increasing the numbers of natural killer cells and peripheral blood lymphocytes. However, there has been no report of any study which provided good evidence as to whether aromatherapy with Thai massage could improve the immune system in patients with colorectal cancer. The objectives of this study were to determine whether the use of aromatherapy with light Thai massage in patients with colorectal cancer, who have received chemotherapy, can result in improvement of the cellular immunity and reduce the severity of the common symptoms of side effects.
Materials and methods: Sixty-six patients with colorectal cancer in Phichit Hospital, Thailand, were enrolled in a single-blind, randomised-controlled trial. The intervention consisted of three massage sessions with ginger and coconut oil over a 1-week period. The control group received standard supportive care only. Assessments were conducted at pre-assessment and at the end of one week of massage or standard care. Changes from pre-assessment to the end of treatment were measured in terms of white blood cells, neutrophils, lymphocytes, CD4 and CD8 cells and the CD4/CD8 ratio and also the severity of self-rated symptom scores.
Results: The main finding was that after adjusting for pre-assessment values the mean lymphocyte count at the post-assessment was significantly higher (P=0.04) in the treatment group than in the controls. The size of this difference suggested that aromatherapy with Thai massage could boost lymphocyte numbers by 11%. The secondary outcomes were that at the post assessment the symptom severity scores for fatigue, presenting symptom, pain and stress were significantly lower in the massage group than in the standard care controls.
Conclusions: Aromatherapy with light Thai massage can be beneficial for the immune systems of cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy by increasing the number of lymphocytes and can help to reduce the severity of common symptoms.