Study shows family caregivers, simple touch techniques reduce symptoms in cancer patients

November 13, 2009, New York, NY. Family caregivers can significantly reduce suffering in cancer patients at home through use of simple touch and massage techniques. These findings were recently reported at the 6th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology.

The study, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, 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) and 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.

According to the principal investigator, William Collinge, PhD, president of Collinge and Associates states, “Touch and massage are among the most effective forms of supportive care in cancer, but most patients cannot access professional practitioners of these methods on a regular basis. This 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.”

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. Those in the control group were assigned to read to the patient for the same amounts of time. Patients completed report cards before and after sessions rating their levels of pain, fatigue, stress/anxiety, nausea, depression, and other symptoms.

Results indicated significant reductions for all symptoms after both activities, indicating that companionship alone has a positive effect. However, while symptoms were reduced from 12-28% after reading, massage from the caregiver led to reductions of 29-44%. The greatest impact was on stress/anxiety (44% reduction), followed by pain (34%), fatigue (32%), depression (31%), and nausea (29%). Patients reporting an optional “other” symptom (e.g., headaches) saw reductions of 42% with massage. Caregivers in the massage group also showed gains in confidence and comfort with using touch and massage as forms of caregiving.

According to Collinge, “It appears that family members who receive simple instruction in safety and techniques can achieve some of the same results as professional practitioners. This has important implications not just for patient well-being, but for caregivers as well. Caregivers are at risk of distress themselves — they can feel helpless and frustrated when seeing a loved one suffer. This gives a way to make a difference for the patient, and at the same time increase their own satisfaction and effectiveness as a caregiver. It also appears to strengthen the relationship bond, which is important to both.”

The DVD program is now released to the public, titled “Touch, Caring and Cancer: Simple Instruction for Family and Friends.” in English, Spanish and Chinese. More information and video trailers are available at www.partnersinhealing.net.

About Collinge and Associates

Collinge and Associates is an independent research and consulting organization based in Kittery, Maine. The group conducts research in complementary therapies for the National Institutes of Health, and does scientific review consulting for NIH and other organizations. Website: www.collinge.org.

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