Are you caring for your spouse or family member with cancer?

Are you caring for your spouse or family member with cancer?

Research shows that gentle massage may help you both.

By Leila Kozak and William Collinge

Partners and other family members of cancer patients can provide simple and safe massage for comfort and symptom management.

People undergoing cancer treatment frequently require supportive care to deal with symptom management, either because of the disease process or because of the side effects from cancer treatment. 

Pain, anxiety, nausea, depression and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms associated with various types of cancer treatment. The research evidence suggests that symptoms experienced during cancer treatment or post-cancer treatment are best addressed with a mix of pharmacological as well as non-pharmacological interventions. Best results are frequently attained when people use both at the same time. 

Massage and touch therapies are one of the most common interventions used in cancer care to address pain, anxiety, and fatigue. Massage and touch therapies are also among the most well-researched non-pharmacological therapies in cancer care. Touch therapies and massage therapy are also among the interventions that cancer patients and their caregivers appreciate the most. As of 2024, cancer centers around the US and across many other countries around the world offer massage and touch therapies consistently to cancer patients as a way to improve symptom management and to provide comfort and relaxation. 

People frequently associate receiving massage with having a massage therapist who will deliver the intervention. Many are still unaware that such powerful intervention can easily be learned and delivered by spouses and other family members or other informal caregivers. 

Research has shown that basic massage techniques may be easily learned by anyone by attending a class in person or even through a video program. 

Spouses or family caregivers can provide massage at home to their loved-ones with cancer after watching a specially designed online program.The Touch, Caring and Cancer Program is available online, on-demand at the comfort of your own home. 

This type of massage, that is gentle and easy to learn, can have a powerful effect on symptom management as well as on the quality of life of the cancer patient. Additionally, researchers observed that not only the patient feels better, but the massage interaction also helps the spouse or family member feel more at ease and even the quality of the relationship can improve. Massage delivered by a partner or family caregiver can bring comfort to the person with cancer and make a huge difference in the patient’s quality of life but also in the quality of life of those around him/her/they. 

Touch and massage are among the most popular and helpful therapies used within hospice and palliative care settings, and this support can continue at home. The Touch, Caring and Cancer Program gives family caregivers clear instruction in safe and simple use of touch and massage techniques for comfort and relaxation of a loved one.

The program was developed through research sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. In this project, caregivers used the program to learn the massage techniques and provided massage to their loved-one at home for as little as 15-20 minutes three to four times a week. The results of the study showed that the program improved satisfaction and confidence in caregiving, while patients had reductions in pain, stress/anxiety, fatigue, depression, and nausea comparable to those achieved by a treatment provided by a professional massage therapist. 

The focus on comfort and relaxation makes this program generalizable to patients with other conditions as well. This IPCI course for patients and caregivers consists of 78 minutes of video instruction divided into ten brief video-lessons, including a downloadable manual (PDF) and a precautions checklist to be discussed with the medical provider. 

The Touch, Caring and Cancer Program is also available in four other language versions in addition to English: Spanish, Chinese Mandarin, Chinese Cantonese, and Vietnamese. To access the online course click here.

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