Easing Cancer Patient Stress and Anxiety Through Hand Massage

Patients with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy infusion are likely feeling uncomfortable, stressed, and anxious, but a brief session of hand massage may be a relatively simple way to put them more at ease.

Patients with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy infusion are likely feeling uncomfortable, stressed, and anxious, but a brief session of hand massage may be a relatively simple way to put them more at ease.

Caitlin Braithwaite, BAN, RN, OCN, and colleagues asked nurses at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where they practice to administer 5-minute hand massages to 43 patients in an outpatient chemotherapy infusion suite. Two of the chemotherapy drugs most commonly used at the suite carry a risk of anaphylaxis, so nurses had to sit at the patient’s side for the first 15 minutes of the first two infusions, offering an opportune window for nurses to try the technique.

Braithwaite’s goal was to strengthen the nurse—patient relationship and improve patient comfort, relaxation, experience, satisfaction, and reduce stress and anxiety.

Patients were assigned to two groups: current standard of care or hand massage, and each group completed pre- and post-intervention assessments evaluating their stress, comfort, anxiety, and satisfaction levels. After the 5-month study was finished, Braithwaite reported that 100% of patients agreed or strongly agreed that the nurse-administered hand massage helped them, despite some having hesitation at first.

“The patient comments about the project were quite remarkable,” said Braithwaite. “Patients—male, female and all cancer types—said that hand massage increased their ability to talk to a nurse, helped them forget about their chemotherapy, and made them feel like someone valued them as a person and saw them as a person as they were getting treatment.”

Oncology nurses also offered positive feedback about the hand massages. One said it helped to connect with patients on a deeper level, while another said it was a good way to help patients relax without medication.

“A 5-minute hand massage offers the nurse a nonverbal way to connect with patients and to communicate empathy, caring, affection, and concern,” the researchers noted in their study abstract.

Braithwaite said she would like to see hand massage integrated into patient care as part of a nurse’s essential job functions. She also hopes it can be applied across other practice settings in oncology.