Reflexology: Hands-on Path to Improved Life for Millions of Cancer Patients?

What Research Shows
by Barbara and Kevin Kunz

Research shows that reflexology helps cancer patients improve the physical and emotional symptoms of the cancer experience. From chemotherapy to symptom management and from post-operative care to palliative care, research demonstrate reflexology's effectiveness at alleviating pain, relieving anxiety, easing nausea and more for cancer patients.
Moreover, the research has been conducted by nurses world-wide-twenty-four studies in ten countries. Analysis for the ebook Reflexology Research in Cancer Care What it means for cancer patients brought out this very interesting fact (among others). And, these positive research results could be signaling a profound shift: the integration of reflexology into medicine and oncology care in countries around the world.
For the 28 million people fighting cancer worldwide ‹a number made famous by Lance Armstrong's use of the number 28 on his team's Tour de France jerseys‹ and the 1.3 million diagnosed each year in the US alone, findings from the reflexology research offer potential, potential for improved quality of life and easing of their symptoms. Speaking to such potential are the results realized by the total of 1,173 cancer patients participating in the 24 studies.
 
For example, in eleven studies totaling 697 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, reflexology was found to be effective at in easing symptoms such as nausea vomiting, fatigue and anxiety. Six studies researched the effects of reflexology on nausea with results reported as: "...(reflexology) produced a significant and immediate effect on the patients' perceptions of pain, nausea and relaxation." Four studies included the topic of vomiting with results reported as: "...(for those receiving reflexology there was a) statistically significant decrease in nausea, fatigue and vomiting..."
 
For those under cancer care with concerns about management of symptoms, six studies of reflexology which included a total of 255 patients demonstrated its effectiveness. Reported results include: "...immediate decrease in pain intensity and anxiety (following reflexology work)..." and "... patients who received reflexology reported less pain, nausea, stress, anxiety, and depression..."
Two studies of post operative cancer patients including a total of 89 cancer patients noted results of lessened pain and anxiety reported by patients to whom reflexology was applied as well as significantly less use of analgesics. (A study conducted post-operatively with 183 early stage breast cancer under the direction of psychoimmunologists found:"... (reflexology is) clinically worthwhile, (with) effects on quality of life" (mood, adjustment, function, coping and patient satisfaction)"
Five studies of reflexology applied to a total of 69 cancer patients in palliative care found that reflexology helped with alleviation of fatigue, improvements in quality of life, and decrease in pain as well as being comforted.
 
The research also brings to the forefront implications for reflexology use in cancer care for nurses. As evaluated by nurses who conducted the research on reflexology's use: "Reflexology is a simple technique for human touch which can be performed anywhere, requires no special equipment, is non-invasive and does not interfere with patients' privacy." and "... results from this study provide nurses with an additional treatment to offer postoperative digestive cancer patients (experiencing pain)" and "...effective nursing intervention in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy"
Benefits for concerned family members emerge from the studies as well. Five studies demonstrate that reflexology use in the home by family members helps manage symptoms as well as provide comfort. As noted by researchers: "Partner-delivered reflexology provides opportunities for discussion and communication about pain assessment and decisions, mutual goal-setting, and control of pain relief strategies..." and "(With family-applied reflexology, palliative care) Patients expressed feelings of being less abandoned and the families expressed satisfaction at seeing that something painless existed that could aid their relative."
The studies were conducted within specifications of scientific research: publication of results in professional journals (nursing or oncology); use of control groups (12 studies) or pre-test/post test methods (8 studies); as well as measurements and analyses by standard methods (e.g. the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and ANOVA respectively).