Healing Touch for Cancer

Benefits of Therapeutic Touch for People With Cancer

woman touching a cancer patient's hands
What is healing touch for cancer and how does it work?. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©Dragonimages

Many cancer centers are now offering healing touch as an integrative treatment for cancer. What exactly is healing touch and what benefits may it have for people with living with cancer?

What is Healing Touch?

Healing touch (also called therapeutic touch) is an alternative medicine practice that involves the use of the hands to facilitate healing. The theory is that the motion of a healing touch practitioner's hands over a person's body may help balance the energy fields in a way that promotes healing and well-being.

During healing touch, a therapist may use light touch, or may not directly touch a patient at all.

In integrative oncology, healing touch is classified as a type of biofield therapy, a form of energy therapy. Other biofield therapies include qigong, therapeutic touch, reiki, and polarity therapy.

Certification in healing touch is available through the American Holistic Nurses Association. There are six levels of training. When a practitioner has completed the first three levels, she is considered qualified for certification.

Healing Touch and Cancer Treatment

It’s important to note that when healing touch is used for cancer, it is used as an “integrative” or “complementary” treatment. This means that it is used in addition to other forms of treatment, such as surgery and chemotherapy. Integrative treatments are most often added to help people cope with the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments, such as pain and anxiety.

Benefits for People With Cancer

Healing touch has been reported to increase relaxation and impart a sense of well-being. It may also have benefits that apply specifically to people who are living with cancer. Some of these include:

  • Improved Immune Response
    One study found that people who underwent healing touch had less toxicity to cells in the immune system (natural killer cells) that play a role in fighting cancer.
  • Less Depression
    Studies suggest that people who have healing touch performed along with standard treatments for cancer are less depressed.
  • Improved Pain Management
    Healing touch may decrease the intensity of pain experienced by people with cancer. This, in turn, may decrease the amount of pain medication needed, and hence the side effects that pain medications can cause.
  • Improved Fatigue
    One study looking specifically at cancer-related fatigue in people going through radiation treatment found that healing touch was associated with a significantly reduced level of fatigue.

Several clinical trials are in progress studying the effects of healing touch on quality of life for people going through chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.

Precautions Regarding Healing Touch in Cancer

The most important thing to keep in mind when considering alternative therapies in cancer treatment is the goal of the treatment. Healing touch isn’t used as a treatment to improve survival, but rather as a method to help improve your quality of life.

When used in this way, healing touch has very few side effects. On rare occasions, people may find that healing touch increases rather than decreases their anxiety. And a few people have reported feeling disoriented when they relax during a healing touch session.

How Can You Get Started?

The first place you may want to check for information on healing touch is your cancer center. Many of the large cancer centers now offer healing touch as part of an integrative program that combines so called alternative therapies like healing touch and acupuncture with traditional or conventional therapies.

If healing touch isn’t available at your center, ask your oncologist if she has any suggestions.Talking to people in your support group or online chat rooms may also give you ideas on ways to connect with people who perform healing touch in your community.

Other Integrative Treatments for Cancer

Sources:

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Anderson, J., and A. Taylor. Effects of healing touch in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Holistic Nursing. 2011. 29(11):221-8.

Coakley, A., and A. Barron. Energy therapies in oncology nursing. Seminars in Oncology Nursing. 2012. 28(1):55-63.

Hart, L.et al. The use of healing touch in integrative oncology. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. 2011. 15(5):519-25.

Jackson, E. et al. Does therapeutic touch help reduce pain and anxiety in patients with cancer?. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. 2008. 12(1):113-20.

Jain, S., and P. Mills. Biofield therapies: helpful or full of hype? A best evidence synthesis. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2010. 17(1):1-16.

Lutgendorf, S. et al. Preservation of immune function in cervical cancer patients during chemoradiation using a novel integrative approach. Brain, Behavior and Immunity. 2010. 24(8):1231-40.

Mansky, P., and D. Wallerstedt. Complementary medicine in palliative care and cancer symptom management. Cancer Journal. 2006. 12(5):425-31.

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Roscoe, J. et al. Treatment of radiotherapy-induced fatigue through a nonpharmacological approach. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2005. 4(1):8-13.

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