Background: Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) are widely used by cancer patients, despite limited evidence of efficacy. Manipulative and body-based practices are some of the most commonly used CAM. This systematic review evaluates their benefits in oncology.
Method: A systematic literature review was carried out with no restriction of language, time, cancer location or type. PubMed, CENTRAL, PsycArticle, PsychInfo, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection and SOCindex were queried. Inclusion criteria were adult cancer patients and randomized controlled trials (RCT) assessing manipulative and body-based complementary practices on psychological and symptom outcomes. Effect size was calculated when applicable.
Results: Of 1624 articles retrieved, 41 articles were included: massage (24), reflexology (11), acupressure (6). Overall, 25 studies showed positive and significant effects on symptom outcomes (versus 9 that did not), especially pain and fatigue. Mixed outcomes were found for quality of life (8 papers finding a significant effect vs. 10 which did not) and mood (14 papers vs. 13). In most studies, there was a high risk of bias with a mean Jadad score of 2, making interpretation of results difficult.
Conclusion: These results seem to indicate that manipulative CAM may be effective on symptom management in cancer. However, more robust methodologies are needed. The methodological requirements of randomized controlled trials are challenging, and more informative results may be provided by more pragmatic study design.