Medical massage therapy is not an effective treatment for terminal cancer patients, according to a new study.
The study found there was no evidence to suggest it was effective in treating advanced or advanced-stage cancers such as brain tumours, breast and prostate cancers, the most common of which are cancer of the prostate or breast.
The researchers said the study was a proof of concept and would be carried out further in a large scale.
Dr Robert Waugh, a senior lecturer at the University of Limerick, said: “In this paper, we present a new method of treatment which has been developed to address the need for patients with terminal disease who require a short term and controlled medical treatment with minimal side effects, such as no radiation exposure.”
He added that the study also showed that the method could be used to treat other conditions such as epilepsy and epilepsy-related pain.
The research, carried out by the Institute of Health Services and Social Care Research, is published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.
Dr Waugh said it was a “massive step forward” in understanding the therapeutic benefits of medical massage therapy.
“The fact that it works in both advanced and advanced-type cancer patients is a very exciting result, and it highlights the potential of this type of treatment in cancer patients with a wide range of conditions,” he said.
Dr William Sorensen, director of the Centre for Cancer Research at King’s College London, said the results of the study demonstrated the need to reexamine the therapeutic use of massage in cancer.
“This is the first time we have found a direct link between massage therapy and a disease state, so we know it is effective for some people and not effective for others,” he added.
“We need to be able to look at the patients that are being treated with massage and find out what is happening with their cancer, and we need to take into account other possible effects, and what might be associated with that.”
The researchers noted that they were able to demonstrate the efficacy of the treatment on patients with advanced- and advanced stages of cancer, but said further work needed to be done to investigate the impact on the overall treatment rate.
Dr Sorenesen said the research was significant, but that it did not answer the question of whether the treatment is more effective than a conventional chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies cancer as a Group 2B disease, meaning it poses a high risk of developing and spreading to the human body.
Dr John Cawthorn, a professor of infectious diseases at King of Prussia University, said it is “very important” to use treatments such as medical massage and acupuncture in patients with cancers.
“For many years there has been a lack of knowledge about the benefits of massage, particularly in advanced stage cancer, as it is an area where there are still unanswered questions,” he told the Irish Independent.
“It is clear that the use of medical therapies has an important role to play in the treatment of cancer.”
Dr Cawthson added that further research was needed to understand the efficacy and risks of medical treatments.
He said it would be “very helpful” if the researchers were able the same information to patients who had terminal disease.
“That’s why it is so important that this is investigated further in the long term, so that we can make more informed decisions,” he suggested.
The University of Leeds has recently published research which found that the benefits to patients with cancer of acupuncture can be seen within a week of receiving treatment.
The report, which was published in Nature Medicine, found the treatment had “significantly improved outcomes in the most advanced stage” of advanced cancer patients.
“Our results indicate that acupuncture may have an important effect in the development of cancer metastasis, and may even have beneficial outcomes for other types of cancer,” the authors concluded.