BMJ Support Palliat Care 2:363-366 doi:10.1136/bmjspcare-2012-000224
  • Research

Pilot study of the impact of massage therapy on sources and levels of distress in brain tumour patients

  1. Julia R Saling2
  1. 1Surgery Department, Duke University, The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA
  2. 2West Liberty University, Tridelphia, West Virginia, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Stephen Thomas Keir, Surgery Department, Duke University, The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, Box 3624 DUMC, Durham, NC 27710, USA; Keir0001{at}


Background Patients with brain tumours report elevated levels of distress across the disease course. Massage therapy is a commonly used complementary therapy and is employed in cancer care to reduce psychological stress and to improve quality of life (QoL). The purpose of this pilot study was to obtain a preliminary assessment of the effect of massage therapy on patient-reported psychological outcomes and QoL.

Materials and methods This study was a prospective, single-arm intervention. Participants were newly diagnosed primary brain tumour patients who reported experiencing distress and who received a total of eight massages over a period of 4 weeks. Participants completed the National Comprehensive Cancer Network's Distress Thermometer (DT) six times over a 5-week period.

Results As a group, levels of distress dropped significantly between baseline and week 3 (mean 4.19, SD 1.481, p≤0.025), with a further significant reduction in distress between week 3 and week 4 (p≤0.001). At the end of week 4, the DT scores of all participants were below the threshold for being considered distressed. By the end of the intervention, participants reported significant improvements in one test domain focused on emotional well-being.

Conclusions This study further documents that brain tumour patients report high levels of distress across the disease course. However, participants in this study reported improvements in distress level and total number of sources of distress while receiving massage therapy.

  • Received 22 February 2012.
  • Accepted 22 August 2012.
  • Published Online First 27 September 2012

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