Written by Helen Cooke, Helen Seers and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated September 28, 2016

Massage (Classical/Swedish)

Abstract and key points

  • Massage involves the manipulation of the body’s muscles and soft tissues
  • Some evidence indicates that massage may, decrease pain and improve quality of life, nausea, anxiety, stress, fatigue, anger and depression in individuals diagnosed with cancer
  • The methodological quality of the research published to date is however mixed
  • Massage for cancer patients is generally safe

Classical/Swedish massage involves mechanical manipulation of muscles and soft tissues. Practitioners claim that massage may have several positive effects in the treatment of people suffering from cancer, including psychological improvements (e.g. reduction of anxiety and depression) or alleviation of physical symptoms associated with cancer (e.g. reduction of nausea and strengthening of the immune system). Massage has also been promoted to improve overall quality of life.

Evidence from six systematic reviews (four of which included a meta-analysis), one non-systematic review as well as an additional four controlled trials published after the systematic reviews suggests massage may improve cancer pain and that massage may be a useful supportive care intervention in both adults and children with cancer. The positive health-related quality of life outcomes reported in the studies however are not consistent across the symptoms, so no clear pattern is apparent of benefits for specific symptoms.

Overall, there is some evidence that classical/Swedish massage administered as a symptomatic treatment has benefits for cancer patients and is generally safe. It is not possible to draw firm conclusions due to mixed methodological quality of the available research. Documentation indicates that contraindications include strong forceful massage in patients suffering from haemorrhagic disorders, low platelet counts, and blood thinning medication.

Read about the regulation, supervision and reimbursement of massage at NAFKAMs website CAM Regulation.

Citation Helen Cooke, Helen Seers, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Massage (Classical/Swedish) [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Manipulative-body-based/Massage-Classical-Swedish. September 28, 2016.

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