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The effect of massage on cellular immunity, endocrine and psychological factors in women with breast cancer — a randomized controlled clinical trial.

Billhult A, Lindholm C, Gunnarsson R, Stener-Victorin E.

Auton Neurosci. 2008 Jun;140(1-2):88-95.



The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of repeated effleurage massage treatments compared with a visit control group on circulating lymphocytes by studying the number and activity of peripheral blood NK cells, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in women with breast cancer. Furthermore, the effect of repeated effleurage massage treatments on the levels of cortisol in saliva and oxytocin in plasma as well as degree anxiety, depression and quality of life was studied.


A single centre, prospective, randomized, controlled trial.


The study was conducted in a radiation department, in a hospital in south-western Sweden.


Twenty-two women (mean age=62) with breast cancer undergoing radiation were included in this study.


The patients were randomly assigned to effleurage massage therapy (20 min of effleurage on ten occasions) or to control visits (ten 20-minute visits).


Blood samples were collected before the first and last massage/control visit for analysis of peripheral blood NK, T cells and oxytocin. Saliva was analysed for cortisol. In addition, the patients completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Life Satisfaction Questionnaire and Spielbergers State Trait Anxiety Inventory prior to the first and last massage/control visit.


Effleurage massage treatment had no significant effect on the number, frequencies or activation state of NK cells or CD4+ or CD8+ T cells. Furthermore, no significant changes between groups were detected on cortisol and oxytocin concentrations, anxiety, depression or quality of life.


Significant effect of effleurage massage on cellular immunity, cortisol, oxytocin, anxiety, depression or quality of life could not be demonstrated in this study. Several possible explanations to the results of this study are discussed.

Other studies investigating effects of massage on Hormonal system

Keywords: cortisol, prolactin, oxytocin, ACTH, growth hormone, prolactin, cortisol, plasma corticotropin

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Rapaport, M. H., P. Schettler, et al. (2010). “A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals.” J Altern Complement Med.

Stringer, J., R. Swindell, et al. (2008). “Massage in patients undergoing intensive chemotherapy reduces serum cortisol and prolactin.” Psychooncology 17(10): 1024-1031.

Turner, R. A., M. Altemus, et al. (1999). “Preliminary research on plasma oxytocin in normal cycling women: investigating emotion and interpersonal distress.” Psychiatry 62(2): 97-113.

Turner, R. A., M. Altemus, et al. (2002). “Effects of emotion on oxytocin, prolactin, and ACTH in women.” Stress 5(4): 269-276.


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