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Touch Therapy Reduces Cancer Suffering, Study Says

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Family caregivers can significantly reduce suffering in cancer patients at home through the use of simple touch and massage techniques, according to a study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and reported at the 6th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology.

“Touch and massage are the among the most effective forms of supportive care in cancer, but most patients cannot access professional practitioners of these methods on a regular bases,” said William Collinge, PhD the study’s lead investigator and president of Collinge and Associates.

The study sought to determine whether family caregivers receiving brief home-based instruction could deliver some of the same benefits as professionals.

It appears they can, according to Dr. Collinge. “Family members who receive simple instruction in safety and techniques can achieve some of the same results as professional practitioners.”

The study points out that massage and touch therapy has important implications, not just for patient well-being, but for caregivers as well.

Caregivers are at risk of feeling distress themselves. They can feel helpless and frustrated when seeing a loved one suffer. Using touch therapy gives them a way to make a difference for the patient, while increasing the caregivers’ own satisfaction and effectiveness. “It also appears to strengthen the relationship bond, which is important to both,” according to the study.

The study evaluated outcomes of a 78-minute DVD instructional program and illustrated manual in a sample of 97 patients and their caregivers. The multi-ethnic sample represented 21 types of cancer (nearly half with breast cancer) at all stages of disease. Caregivers included spouses, adult children, parents, siblings and friends. The project was conducted in Boston, MA, Portland, ME, and Portland, OR using English, Spanish and Chinese languages.

In the study, couples were randomized to either an experimental group using the program, or an attention control group. Caregivers in the experimental group were asked to apply the instruction for at least 20 minutes, three or more times per week for a month.

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