Gentle, noninvasive touch and massage are among the most popular forms of complementary therapy for relief of pain and other symptoms in cancer, based on the growing body of evidence of their safety and benefits. Numerous studies of massage with cancer patients have demonstrated significant effects on perceived stress, quality of life, and common symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, mood disturbance, fatigue, and disturbed sleep. The impact of simple touch and massage on pain and mood can be immediate and clinically significant. Even a single massage session can reduce symptom levels significantly.
Touch-based methods of comfort are offered in many cancer treatment centers, hospice programs, and other palliative care settings. However, there are significant obstacles to wide use and consistent delivery to patients over time. The integration of touch as routine supportive care may be achievable through tapping an underutilized resource in the patient's natural social environment: family members and friends who have the need and desire to contribute to relief of suffering in their loved one. Caregivers often experience distress from perceived helplessness or low self-efficacy in contributing to the relief of suffering in their loved one, which can be alleviated with active, hands-on caregiving. However, caregivers tend to have inhibitions about touch in cancer, leading to unnecessary physical and emotional distancing at a time when patients need touch the most.
Touch and massage methods are relatively easily learned. Programs that provide brief caregiver education are needed to help build caregivers' sense of self-efficacy and empower them with the ability to have an impact on patient well-being. Such programs can potentially benefit the patient, the caregiver, and the quality of their relationship.