Randomized control trial evidence for the benefits of massage and relaxation therapy on sleep in cancer survivors—a systematic review

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Journal of Cancer Survivorship


Purpose: Cancer survivors may experience sleep disturbances during and after their cancer treatments. While pharmacological approaches are commonly used to address sleep disturbances, they may have a number of adverse effects. This review studied the effect of two non-pharmacological interventions (massage and relaxation therapy) on sleep disturbances in cancer survivors. Methods: A search for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) was conducted on PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, PEDro, and CINAHL using relevant keywords. Results: The search yielded 371 articles, with 4 RCTs studying massage therapy and 3 RCTs studying relaxation therapy included for qualitative analysis. Massage therapy studies showed statistically significant improvement in self-reported sleep questionnaires and objectively recorded long sleep episodes, as assessed via an accelerometer. No significant improvements in sleep outcomes were observed in the relaxation therapy studies, although there were trends for improved self-reported sleep quality. Conclusion: While massage therapy provided by massage therapists may have some potential for improving sleep outcomes for cancer survivors, there is no such current evidence regarding relaxation therapy. Implications for Cancer Survivors: Cancer survivors who experience sleep disturbances may benefit from regular sessions with a massage therapist. However, future studies should examine the long-term feasibility of massage therapist–delivered services, particularly for cancer survivors with limited finances, and determine if benefits can be obtained if massage is provided by non-certified individuals. Relaxation therapy appears to be safe for cancer survivors, but future RCTs involving larger sample sizes need to be conducted to better determine its feasibility and efficacy.



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