Leukemia-related pain and fatigue was effectively reduced by light massage or music therapy, according to results of a study published in JCO Oncology Practice.

Cancer-related pain and fatigue are common negative contributors to quality of life among patients with leukemia. Pharmacologic interventions have not been found to adequately control these symptoms. This study aimed to assess whether complementary approaches may ease some of these symptoms.

Patients with leukemia-related pain and fatigue were recruited at Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences in Iran between 2018 and 2019. Patients were randomly assigned to receive light massage (34 patients), music therapy (33 patients), or standard care (37 patients) for 4 weeks and were assessed for pain and fatigue using an 11-point numerical rating scale (NRS).

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The massage, music, and control cohorts, respectively, were mean ages 38.32±10.98, 36.61±11.62, and 39.24±10.87; 52.9%, 45.5%, and 59.5% were women; and had baseline median pain intensity of 6 (range, 4 to 9), 6 (range, 4 to 9), and 6 (range, 3 to 9). Fatigue intensity was 8 (range, 5 to 10) among all groups. The majority of patients had acute myeloid leukemia (AML; 70.2%).

For both intervention cohorts, reduction was progressive from baseline to week 4 in pain (median, massage: 2.73; music: 3.57) and fatigue (median, massage: 4.91; music: 5.45).

Differences were significant between all groups from baseline to week 6 for pain and fatigue (both P =.001).

Massage therapy was significantly more effective at reducing pain intensity than music therapy (P =.001). The effect on fatigue was not significantly different between interventions (P =.148).

Compared with standard care, both interventions were more effective for both symptoms (both P =.001).

This study was limited by its reliance on participants’ self-report of pain and fatigue.

Both complementary therapies were found effective at reducing pain and fatigue, but light massage associated with more favorable outcomes.


Miladinia M, Voss JG, Molavynejad S, et al. Slow-stroke back massage compared with music therapy for leukemia-related pain and fatigue: a randomized controlled trial. JCO Oncol Pract. 2021;17(11):e1614-e1621. doi:10.1200/OP.21.00156