Symptoms Associated With Other Cancers

A meta-analysis that included 16 RCTs found that massage therapy was effective for managing pain compared with no treatment (standardized mean difference [SMD], -0.20; 95% CI, -0.99 to 0.59) or an active comparator (SMD, -0.55; 95% CI, -1.23 to 0.14).13 Another meta-analysis published around the same time, which included 12 studies with 559 patients with cancer pain, found that massage therapy significantly improved cancer-related pain compared with conventional care (SMD, -1.25; 95% CI, -1.63 to -0.87), and was particularly effective for surgery-related pain.14 In this study, reflexology was more effective than classic massage or aromatherapy massage. Following these meta-analyses, another small RCT showed that slow-stroke back massage significantly improved progressive sleep disorder and sleep quality over time, as well as reduced pain and fatigue compared with controls.15

Continue Reading

Massage therapy significantly reduced anxiety (SMD, -1.24; 95% CI, -2.44 to -0.03) and fatigue (SMD, -1.06; 95% CI, -2.18 to 0.05),13 particularly in the short term, after a session.16,17

General symptoms were improved by massage therapy in several different RCTs. Massage therapy improved quality of life scores18,19 and improved symptom distress, severity, and interference, as well as self-reported physical complaints.20-22 Massage also improved constipation and total mood.23,24

Related Articles


Current evidence suggests that massage therapy can be an effective supportive care technique with the potential to improve mood, pain, nausea, quality of life, and symptom burden. The beneficial effects of massage are most likely transient, occurring only after a massage therapy session concludes. Long-term benefits likely require continued massage therapy.


  1. Society for Oncology Massage. Oncology massage overview. Accessed July 2, 2018.
  2. Pan YQ, Yang KH, Wang YL, et al.Q. Massage interventions and treatment-related side effects of breast cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Clin Oncol. 2014;19:829-841. doi: 10.1007/s10147-013-0635-5
  3. Lee PL, Tam KW, Yeh ML et al. Acupoint stimulation, massage therapy and expressive writing for breast cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. 2016;27:87-101. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.06.003
  4.  Hernandez-Reif M, Ironson G, Field T, et al. Breast cancer patients have improved immune and neuroendocrine functions following massage therapy. J Psychosom Res. 2004;57(1):45-52.
  5. Hernandez-Reif M, Field T, Ironson G, et al. Natural killer cells and lymphocytes increase in women with breast cancer following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005;115(4):495-510.
  6. Krohn M, Listing M, Tijahjono G, et al. Depression, mood, stress, and Th1/Th2 immune balance in primary breast cancer patients undergoing classical massage therapy. Support Care Cancer. 2011;19:1303-1311. doi: 10.1007/s00520-010-0946-2.
  7. Listing M, Krohn M, Liezmann C, et al. The efficacy of classical massage on stress perception and cortisol following primary treatment of breast cancer. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2010;13:165-173. doi: 10.1007/s00737-009-0143-9.
  8. Billhult A, Lindholm C, Gunnarsson R, et al.The effect of massage on cellular immunity, endocrine and psychological factors in women with breast cancer — a randomized controlled clinical trial. Auton Neurosci. 2008;140:88-95. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2008.03.006
  9. Billhult A, Lindholm C, Gunnarsson R, et al. The effect of massage on immune function and stress in women with breast cancer–a randomized controlled trial. Auton Neurosci. 2009;150:111-115. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2009.03.010
  10. Listing M, Reisshauer A, Krohn M, et al. Massage therapy reduces physical discomfort and improves mood disturbances in women with breast cancer. Psychooncology. 2009;18:1290-1299. doi: 10.1002/pon.1508
  11. Sturgeon M, Wetta-Hall R, Hart T, et al. Effects of therapeutic massage on the quality of life among patients with breast cancer during treatment. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15:373-380. doi: 10.1089/acm.2008.0399
  12. Billhult A, Stener-Victorin E, Bergbom I. The experience of massage during chemotherapy treatment in breast cancer patients. Clin Nurs Res. 2007;16:85-99.
  13. Boyd C, Crawford C, Paat CF, et al. The impact of massage therapy on function in pain populations—a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials: part II, cancer pain populations. Pain Med. 2016;17:1553-1568. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnw100
  14. Lee S-H, Kim J-Y, Yeo S, et al. Meta-analysis of massage therapy on cancer pain. Integr Cancer Ther. 2015;14:297-304. doi: : 10.1177/1534735415572885
  15. Miladinia M, Baraz S, Shariati A, et al. Effects of slow-stroke back massage on symptom cluster in adult patients with acute leukemia: supportive care in cancer nursing. Cancer Nurs. 2017;40:31-38.
  16. Wilkinson SM, Love SB, Westcombe AM, et al. Effectiveness of aromatherapy massage in the management of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. J Clin Oncol. 2007;25:532-539. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2006.08.9987
  17. Campeau MP, Gaboriault R, Drapeau M, et al. Impact of massage therapy on anxiety levels in patients undergoing radiation therapy: randomized controlled trial. J Soc Integr Oncol. 2007;5:133-138.
  18. Ovayolu O, Seviğ U, Ovayolu N, et al. The effect of aromatherapy and massage administered in different ways to women with breast cancer on their symptoms and quality of life. Int J Nurs Pract. 2014;20:408-417. doi: 10.1111/ijn.12128
  19. Toth M, Marcantonio ER, Davis RB, et al. Massage therapy for patients with metastatic cancer: a pilot randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2013;19:650-656. doi: 10.1089/acm.2012.0466
  20. Smith MC, Kemp J, Hemphill L, et al. Outcomes of therapeutic massage for hospitalized cancer patients. J Nurs Scholarsh. 2002;34:257-262.  
  21. Wyatt G, Sikorskii A, Tesnjak I, et al. A randomized clinical trial of caregiver-delivered reflexology for symptom management during breast cancer treatment. J Pain Symptom Manag. 2017;54:670-679. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2017.07.037
  22. Donoyama N, Satoh T, Hamano T, et al. Physical effects of Anma therapy (Japanese massage) for gynecologic cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. Gynecologic Oncol. 2016;142:531-538. doi: 10.1016/j.ygyno.2016.06.022
  23. Lai TK, Cheung MC, Lo CK, et al. Effectiveness of aroma massage on advanced cancer patients with constipation: a pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011;17:37-43. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2010.02.004
  24. Sefarty M, Wilkinson S, Freeman C, et al. The ToT Study: Helping with Touch or Talk (ToT): a pilot randomised controlled trial to examine the clinical effectiveness of aromatherapy massage versus cognitive behaviour therapy for emotional distress in patients in cancer/palliative care. Psychooncology. 2012;21:563-569. doi: 10.1002/pon.1921