EAST LANSING, Mich. – Researchers at Michigan StateUniversity are finding that many women who are receiving chemotherapywhile in the late stages of breast cancer are turning to acomplementary therapy known as reflexology to help them cope.
Ina pilot study, researchers from MSU’s College of Nursing tested threedifferent complementary therapies – reflexology, guided imagery andreminiscence therapy, in which women recall times in their lives whenthey’ve met and overcome challenges. Of those three, reflexology provedto be the most effective.
“Reflexology is the one people stuckwith the most during the eight-week protocol,” said Gwen Wyatt, aprofessor in MSU’s College of Nursing who headed the project. “It’salso the one that had the most positive outcomes.”
Women who arereceiving chemotherapy for late-stage breast cancer face myriadphysical and emotional issues. Reflexology – which is a specializedfoot therapy that applies firm pressure to certain parts of the sole ofthe foot – helps women adjust better to their treatment. Reflexologycan be used to support patients through treatment such as chemotherapyor for enhancing well-being for cancer-free individuals.
“We seethings like a decrease in depression and anxiety, and improvements inspirituality and emotional quality of life,” Wyatt said. “Overall, theyhave an improved quality of life.”
We don’t really have aWestern, scientific way of testing how this works. The mechanism is notclearly understood. But for us, we just measure the patient’sperception of change. Currently, there are no physiological measures,”she said.
Wyatt stressed the reflexology and other similartherapies are strictly complementary, to be used in conjunction withconventional health care.
“These supportive measures are intendedto create a less stressful link for the patient to the treatmentcenter,” Wyatt said. “Instead of dreading the next cancer treatment,patients are able to focus on the comfort measure that will be providedduring treatment.”
Wyatt and colleagues are now embarking on amore detailed investigation into the value of reflexology in treatinglate-stage breast cancer patients. Using a National Institutes ofHealth grant of more than $3 million, they will more closely examinethe benefits of reflexology in a controlled study.
Women will bedivided into three groups – one will receive reflexology for fourweeks, one a “placebo” foot massage for four weeks, and one will serveas a control group. Participants will be interviewed before the study,immediately after the four weeks of therapy, and again two monthslater. This way the immediate effects can be compared with morelong-term benefits.
“Breast cancer can be a very difficultexperience and advanced-stage disease even more so,” Wyatt said. “Thisstudy will make the treatment journey more manageable and women maywant to continue it after cancer treatment to maintain a sense ofwell-being.”
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