Patients with advanced cancer may experience reduced stress if they receive regular massages from family members, say researchers who presented their study at the 7th Annual Conference of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society.

To study the effects of massage by a care partner, defined as a spouse or a family member, 97 participants watched an instructional DVD program on providing in-home massages to patients. The patient cohort included people with 21 different types of cancer, more than half with either stage III or IV cancer. Massages averaged about 4 per week and were of varying duration.

Researchers found that at a 4-week follow-up, 78% of the patients who received an average of more than 13.75 minutes per massage experienced lower stress levels, compared to only 15% of those who received shorter massages. The results revealed that 14 minutes seemed to be a “tipping point” that allowed for the effects of massages by care partners to accumulate and reduce a patient’s stress over time. Also reported was a 44% reduction in stress, 34% reduction in anxiety, 32% reduction in fatigue, 31% reduction in depression, and a 29% reduction in nausea.

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William Collinge, PhD, principal investigator for the study, concluded by saying, “It appears that care partners receiving video instruction can achieve some of the same results as professional practitioners. This has important implications for patient quality of life, but also for caregiver satisfaction.  Care givers are at risk of distress themselves – they can feel helpless and frustrated at not feeling able to help. This gives a way to help the patient fell better and increase their own effectiveness and satisfaction as a caregiver. It also appears to strengthen the relationship bond, which is important to both.”