A total of 25 clinical studies (n=1,548) , of which 23 were randomised controlled trials and two were non-randomised controlled studied, and 12 observational studies (n=1,690) of massage for cancer patients of varying ages were included. Additional studies relating to the effects of massage in non-cancer patients also appeared to be included in the narrative synthesis (n=unknown).
Massage was associated with a decreased heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate (three studies), reduced distress from symptoms (one study), reduction in constipation (one study), reduced side-effects from anti-cancer therapy (one study), reduced pain (three studies), reduced nausea, vomiting (three studies), improved quality of life (one study) and increased NK cell and lymphocyte cell numbers (two studies). Both studies of massage in children reported that massage was associated with reductions in anxiety and depressed mood and changes in immune function.
The review reported on the safety of massage but did not appear to include data from any of the eligible studies. While some basic precautions were recommended (avoiding areas treated with radiation, adjusting pressure to account for patients at risk of bruising and avoiding rocking movements that might induce nausea), no particular safety concerns or side effects were highlighted.