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Cancer and Reflexology: Literature Review (Excerpt)

Updated: Jan 21

Although the current state of the science is not based on numerous large-scale trials, findings suggest the potential benefit of reflexology as supportive care for physical and emotional symptoms among patients with cancer.



Systematic Reviews:

1. A systematic review by Ernst (2009) included the following three cancer studies, which used reflexology.

  • 1) In Stephenson, Weinrich, and Tavakoli (2000), use of reflexology significantly decreased anxiety in patients with breast and lung cancer.

  • 2) In Hodgson (2000), patients with cancer receiving palliative care demonstrated significant improvement in quality of life (QOL), including ease of breathing, following reflexology.

  • 3) Finally, no change was reported in depression or anxiety in a sample of patients with cancer receiving palliative care in Ross et al. (2002).

2. A systematic review by Wilkinson, Lockhart, Gambles, and Storey (2008) included an additional study with hospitalized patients with metastatic cancer and demonstrated an immediate postintervention reduction in pain.


3. A systematic review by Kim, Lee, Kang, Choi, and Ernst (2010) examined the use of reflexology for patients with breast cancer receiving surgery.

  • 1) A randomized clinical trial (RCT) within that review (Sharp et al., 2012) reported significant improvement in QOL and mood.

Nonrandomized Trials:

Three additional nonrandomized trials (Chang, Tsai, Chang, & Tsao, 2007; Park, Yoo, & Lee, 2006; Yang, 2005) noted improvement in pain, fatigue, sleep, and mood.


Randomized Control Trials (RCTs):

Three RCTs of reflexology (Quattrin et al., 2006; Stephenson, Swanson, Dalton, Keefe, & Engelke, 2007; Tsay, Chen, Chen, Lin, & Lin, 2008) have focused on populations of patients with cancer. All three reported a significant improvement in anxiety, and Stephenson et al. (2007)and Tsay et al. (2008) reported lower pain.


Source: Oncology Nursing Forum. 2012 Nov; 39(6): 568–577.


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