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Breast Cancer & Massage Therapy

Did you know massage therapy may help breast cancer patients?

Women with breast cancer are at a higher risk for anxiety, depression and decreased natural killer (NK) cell numbers. Stress has been linked to increased tumor development by decreasing NK cell activity.

Thirty-four women diagnosed with Stage1 or 2 breast cancer participated in a study, post-surgery, where they were assigned randomly to a massage therapy group. During this study, these women received 30-minute massages three times a week for 5 weeks, or were part of a control group. The women were assessed on the first day of the study on immediate effects of anxiety, depressed mood and vigor. They were also assessed for long-term effects on depression, hostility and anxiety, body image and avoidant versus intrusive coping style, in addition to urinary catecholamines (norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine) and serotonin levels.

Objectives of this study were to examine massage therapy for women with breast cancer, the biological measures associated with mood enhancement (serotonin, dopamine) and improving mood of these women. Also examined were stress hormone levels, effects on stress reduction and boosting immune measures.

Immediate effects on the women who received massage therapy were reduction in depressed mood, anxiety and anger. Longer-term effects of these same women were reduced hostility, reduced depression, and increased NK cell number, lymphocytes and serotonin values.

Massage Therapy three times weekly for women with Stage 1 or 2 breast cancer may be beneficial with reduction in anxiety, anger, depressed mood, and an increase in NK cell number, enhanced dopamine, serotonin and lymphocytes, therefore improving immune and neuroendocrine functions.

Massage therapy helps patients feel relaxed and in touch with their bodies; it gives patients a moment to not think about the stresses of cancer and treatment- a time for the patient to escape the anxiety of the day. When seeking massage therapy during cancer treatments, always obtain approval from your treating physician and always seek a licensed massage therapist.


Reference: Hernandez-Reif M, Ironson G, etal. Breast cancer patients have improved immune and neuroendocrine functions following massage therapy. J Psychosom Res. 2004 Jul; 57(1):45-52.

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