“Too Often We Underestimate The Power Of A Touch”*

One of the most comforting forms of support you can give a person with cancer is the use of touch. Family caregivers can significantly reduce symptoms in cancer patients at home through use of simple touch and massage techniques. These findings were recently reported at the 6th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology.

Study Shows Family Caregivers’ Simple Touch Techniques Reduce Symptoms in Cancer Patients

One of the most comforting forms of support you can give a person with cancer is the use of touch.  Family caregivers can significantly reduce symptoms in cancer patients at home through use of simple touch and massage techniques. These findings were recently reported at the 6th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology.

The study, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, evaluated outcomes of a 78 minute DVD instructional program and illustrated manual in a sample of 97 patients and their caregivers. The multi-ethnic sample represented 21 types of cancer (nearly half with breast cancer) and all stages of disease. Caregivers included spouses, adult children, parents, siblings and friends. The project was conducted in Boston, Massachusetts, Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon using English, Spanish and Chinese languages.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  — Leo F. Buscaglia, from his book entitled, Living, Loving & Learning.

William Collinge, Ph.D., MPH, President, Collinge and Associates. Dr. Collinge is a consultant, author, speaker and researcher in the field of integrative health care. He has served as a scientific review panelist for the National Institutes of Health in mind/body medicine, complementary therapies & health care services

According to the principal investigator, William Collinge, PhD, MPH, president of Collinge and Associates states, “Touch and massage are among the most effective forms of supportive care in cancer, but most patients cannot access professional practitioners of these methods on a regular basis. This study sought to determine whether family caregivers receiving brief home-based instruction could deliver some of the same benefits as professionals. It appears they can.”

In the study, couples were randomized to either an experimental group using the program, or an attention control group. Caregivers in the experimental group were asked to apply the instruction for at least 20 minutes, three or more times per week for a month. Those in the control group were assigned to read to the patient for the same amounts of time. Patients completed report cards before and after sessions rating their levels of pain, fatigue, stress/anxiety, nausea, depression, and other symptoms.

Results indicated significant reductions for all symptoms after both activities, indicating that companionship alone has a positive effect. However, while symptoms were reduced from 12-28% after reading, massage from the caregiver led to reductions of 29-44%. The greatest impact was on stress/anxiety (44% reduction), followed by pain (34%), fatigue (32%), depression (31%), and nausea (29%). Patients reporting an optional “other” symptom (e.g., headaches) saw reductions of 42% with massage. Caregivers in the massage group also showed gains in confidence and comfort with using touch and massage as forms of caregiving.

According to Collinge, “It appears that family members who receive simple instruction in safety and techniques can achieve some of the same results as professional practitioners. This has important implications not just for patient well-being, but for caregivers as well. Caregivers are at risk of distress themselves – they can feel helpless and frustrated when seeing a loved one suffer. This gives a way to make a difference for the patient, and at the same time increase their own satisfaction and effectiveness as a caregiver. It also appears to strengthen the relationship bond, which is important to both.”

The DVD program, titled Touch, Caring and Cancer: Simple Instruction for Family and Friends,  is expected to be released to the public during the week of November 22, 2009. The DVD program will be available in English, Spanish and Chinese. More information and video trailers are available at www.partnersinhealing.net.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

About Collinge and Associates

Collinge and Associates is an independent research and consulting organization based in Kittery, Maine. The group conducts research in complementary therapies for the National Institutes of Health, and does scientific review consulting for NIH and other organizations. Website: www.collinge.org.


*Title Source:

The title was excerpted from the words of Leo F. Buscaglia that appear in his book Living, Loving & Learning. Buscaglia was a teacher in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California (USC) in the late 1960’s. During his tenure at USC, one of Buscaglia’s students committed suicide.  The incident had a great impact on Buscaglia and led him to establish a non-credit class titled, Love 1A. The class led to lectures and a manuscript loosely based on what was shared in those weekly classes. The manuscript led to the publication of a book entitled, LOVE:  What life is all about.  Shortly thereafter, Leo Buscaglia’s presentations were taped by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and shown on television.  The PBS television presentations touched the hearts of many television viewers.  Buscaglia is often referred to as the granddaddy of motivational speakers. During his lifetime, Buscaglia was a popular speaker on television talk shows and the lecture circuit.  There was one point in time when five of his books appeared simultaneously on The New York Times Best Sellers List.

Survivorship A to Z: Practical Comprehensive Information For Living Successfully After a Cancer Diagnosis

On June 9, 2008, Survivorship A to Z, a new on-line resource for cancer survivors, was officially launched. The mission of Survivorship A to Z is to provide the practical information that you need to thrive in the “new normal” that exists after a life-changing cancer diagnosis. This on-line resource was founded by David S. Landay, who a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard Law School.

Survivorship A to Z is a nonprofit corporation that provides comprehensive resources for cancer survivors including those listed below.

  • Get the practical information you need for all parts of your life impacted by your diagnosis in whatever depth you want – including downloadable forms.
  • Personalize information to your disease, stage, social and economic situation with a free, one-of-a-kind Individual Action Plan. Your plan is computer-generated. It changes as your health, economic or personal situation changes.
  • Start your own personal Symptoms Diary to keep track of your symptoms. With a touch of a button, you receive an instantly readable graph to show your doctor.
  • Use interactive charts to help maximize your financial situation. Health expenses account for over 50% of bankruptcies – including people with insurance.
  • Share information or concerns on the community Message Boards. Message boards are an invaluable source of shared information and support. Message boards are divided by categories such as Insurance, Finances and Employment (with separate boards for business owners, self-employed people and employees).

If you would like to watch the Good Morning America segment highlighting Survivorship A to Z that aired on June 11, 2008, click here. If you want review a list of topics covered by Survivorship A to Z, click here.