Massages Can Help Youth With Cancer and Blood Diseases to Relax

Children, adolescents, and young adults with hematologic and/or oncologic conditions, including cancer and sickle cell disease (SCD), have complex needs during treatment that include managing stress, anxiety, fatigue, and pain (

). Pediatric patients and their families report pain as the most distressing aspect of their cancer treatments. If not adequately managed, pain can contribute to impairments in quality of life, mental health, and behavior (

). To address patients’ symptoms and provide psychosocial support, many cancer centers have integrated evidence-based interventions, including massage therapy (MT) into their services.

The study was conducted between October 2019 and December 2021. A Certified Pediatric Massage Therapist from UH Connor Whole Health provided 3,015 massage therapy sessions to 243 patients across 1,494 encounters at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.


In the recent study, researchers examined the clinical delivery and effectiveness of massage therapy at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and compared the effectiveness of massage therapy on pain, stress, and anxiety between children, adolescents, and young adults with SCD as compared to those with hematologic and/or oncologic conditions excluding SCD (the HemOnc group).

Massage Therapy Helps Patients with Cancer to Relax

Results of the recent study showed that in the combined sample of patients in the SCD and HemOnc groups, clinically significant reductions in pain (2.25 units), stress (2.50 units), and anxiety (2.52 units) were observed. Patients in the SCD group (vs. patients in the HemOnc group) reported significantly higher pre-treatment pain (6.95 vs. 4.46), stress (6.47 vs. 4.58), and anxiety (6.67 vs. 4.59). Additionally, patients in the HemOnc group reported greater mean pain reduction (2.54 vs. 1.87 units) than patients in the SCD group.

Symptoms for Those with Sickle Cell Disease Worse

The research highlights the increased symptom burden that youth with SCD face in the hospital and the significant impact that a single session of massage therapy can have on their symptoms. This study builds upon a recently published study demonstrating the effectiveness of music therapy for adults with hematologic and oncologic conditions as well as the increased symptom burden faced by adults with SCD (4 Trusted Source
Clinical Delivery and Effectiveness of Music Therapy in Hematology and Oncology: An EMMPIRE Retrospective Study

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Healing Power of Touch

“This manuscript shows the power of touch. This can include holding hands, hugging a parent or child, or receiving a full massage therapy treatment. My role is not only to provide massage but also to provide support through patients’ treatment journeys. I am there from diagnosis to remission or to end of life,” said Mandy Bartolovich, LMT, CPMT, the massage therapist who provided the services described in the study.

As part of clinical care, Bartolovich assessed patients’ self-reported pain, stress, and anxiety on a 0 to 10 scale at the beginning and end of each session and documented these sessions in the electronic health record.

Apart from providing massage therapy treatments, Bartolovich also provided important psychosocial support including, conducting assessments of patients’ and family members’ needs, providing supportive interventions during painful procedures, providing education on stress management techniques, and facilitating communication and collaboration between patients, their families, and the medical team.

Advantages of Massage Therapy for Cancer Patients

“We have shown that massage therapy is a convenient, non-toxic, and useful adjunct to therapies administered in pediatric hematology/oncology, a population that has to endure a number of complex and sometimes toxic therapies,” explained Sanjay P. Ahuja, MD, Clinical Director of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and a co-author on the study.

Furthermore, massage therapy was both safe and effective for this population that had a high prevalence of conditions including coagulation defects, neutropenia, immune system disorders, and treatment-related pain from intravenous lines and radiation. When conditions such as these are present, Certified Pediatric Massage Therapists are especially trained to take appropriate precautions to provide massage therapy services to address patients’ needs.

“The massage therapy program at Rainbow is unique in that we have a certified pediatric massage therapist with strong skills in clinical integration. The massage therapy work does not stand disconnected to the other care received, but rather is an integral part of it. This relationship allows us to see how massage performs in a real-world setting, and how this intervention offers a safe means of providing effective, non-pharmacologic treatment for pain, anxiety, and stress,” said David W. Miller, MD, LAc, Medical Director of Pediatric Integrative Medicine at UH Connor Whole Health and co-senior author of the study.

“Hospitals are mandated already to provide non-pharmacologic options, but what these options should include remains poorly defined. The work through Connor Whole Health and Rainbow demonstrates that massage therapy should be integral to clinical services in this domain.”

“What makes this research unique is the meaningful integration of massage therapy within clinical hematology/oncology care and our ability to collect all our data within the electronic health record, extract it, and analyze it to understand the real-world impact of massage therapy,” said Sam Rodgers-Melnick, MPH, MT-BC, first author of the study.

“Beyond the clinical trial, the ability to collect real-world data from clinical practice (also called practice-based research) provides hospital leaders and health systems with access to outcomes that are important to patients,” stated Jeffery A. Dusek, Ph.D., Director of Research at UH Connor Whole Health and co-senior author on the study.

References :

  1. Massage therapy for children, adolescents, and young adults: Clinical delivery and effectiveness in hematology and oncology – (
  2. The Power of Massage in Children with CancerHow Can We Do Effective Research? – (
  3. Managing Pain and Discomfort in Children with Cancer – (
  4. Clinical Delivery and Effectiveness of Music Therapy in Hematology and Oncology: An EMMPIRE Retrospective Study – (

Source: Medindia

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