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Massage Today
April, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 04

Announcing the Massage Therapy Foundation's Research Column

Massage Benefits Brain Cancer Patients

By Massage Therapy Foundation Contributor

The Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) is committed to advancing the knowledge and practice of massage therapy by supporting scientific research, education and community service.

As part of its continuing goal and commitment to the industry, MTF is pleased to announce that it will publish a new research project synopsis, with a reference to the original article, right here at This month, we are pleased to report on an exciting MTF-funded study that examined the potential effectiveness of massage on stress levels and quality of life in brain tumor patients.

Anyone who has ever experienced a traumatic illness such as cancer knows all too well the toll such a diagnosis can take on one's physical and emotional states of being. In addition to apprehensions over treatment and subsequent outcomes, there are many other concerns that can affect a patient's stress level and quality of life, including worries over health insurance, financial security, and various other issues. Moreover, previous research has shown that patients who have been diagnosed with a brain tumor tend to exhibit higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than those suffering from other forms of cancer.

MTF logo - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Research has demonstrated that massage therapy has a variety of positive effects on people suffering from various forms of cancer, most notably reductions in pain, anxiety, and depression.1 However, little is known about the efficacy of massage on patients specifically diagnosed with brain tumors.

Researchers at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University conducted a pilot study to ascertain the effectiveness of massage therapy treatment on stress levels and quality of life in newly diagnosed brain tumor patients.


Twenty-five patients (ages 18+) received two weekly 45-minute massage therapy sessions for four weeks for eight total sessions by two licensed massage therapists, each of whom had more than 600 hours of training. The therapists employed techniques consisting of classic Swedish massage: long strokes, kneading, friction, tapping, percussion, vibration, effleurage and shaking. As part of the study, participants completed questionnaires at baseline, at the end of weeks one through four, and one week after the conclusion of the final massage session.

Keir employed the Perceived Stress Scale-10 (PSS-10) to assess stress and the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Brain (FACT-Br) to assess quality of life. According to the Keir, "The PSS-10 is the most widely used psychological instrument for measuring the perception of stress" and scores range from 0 to 40 points, with "the mean threshold for stress in the general population [being] 12.1 and 13.7 for men and women, respectively." The FACT-Br includes two components: the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General version (FACT-G), which consists of 33 questions that assess well-being in physical, social/family, emotional, and functional domains, as well as an additional brain subscale that assesses key components of the quality of life of brain tumor patients.


Keir found a significant drop in the group's stress levels between weeks two and three and a continued reduction in stress through week four. At the end of week four, all of the study's participants "were below the threshold for being considered stressed." One week after receiving the final massage, participants' PSS-10 scores had increased but had not climbed above the participants' baseline score.

Regarding quality of life, participants also reported significant improvements in emotional well-being, social/family well-being, and brain tumor-specific concerns, as well as nearly significant improvements in physical well-being. Improvements in the areas of emotional and physical well-being continued one week after receiving the final massage.

Keir concluded, "The results of this study suggest that the effect of massage therapy [on] stress may be additive or cumulative and that once massage therapy is discontinued, stress returns but not to original levels." He added that he believed the massage intervention played a role in reduction of stress for study participants as the health of brain tumor patients typically declines over time. The topic of massage frequency's role on stress and other symptoms in patients with brain tumors begs for additional research.

Commenting on quality of life issues, Keir noted that other studies have demonstrated that massage has a positive effect on one's well-being, continuing, "This study validates those findings in a brain tumor population, as participants in this study reported experiencing improvements in emotional, social, and physical well-being, [and areas of additional concern] specific to brain tumor patients."

Among the study's limitations were the small study group, the lack of a control group, and the participants' limited geography, which was a 60-mile radius. Because of a lack of a non-massage group or "sham treatment" group, it is impossible to differentiate the effects of the massage from other effects, such as patients educating themselves about their treatment, thereby reducing their own stress levels. Keir recommended that future similar studies could benefit from being longer, using a control group, tracking outcomes at the conclusion of the intervention, and incorporating physiological and biological markers into the objective assessment. Adding a qualitative component to future studies would also help us to understand any other benefits that were experienced by participants but were not measured directly.

Source: Keir ST. Effect of massage therapy on stress levels and quality of life in brain tumor patients—observations from a pilot study. Supportive Care in Cancer, 2010 Nov 3 [Epub ahead of print]. doi:10.1007/s00520-010-1032-5


  1. Ernst E. Massage therapy for cancer palliation and supportive care: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Supportive Care in Cancer, 2009;17:333-7.

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