Objective: It is estimated that 80% of cancer patients use complementary therapies for symptom management. A number of studies exist on reflexology and symptom relief in patients with cancer. Most suggest potential benefits of reflexology to people with cancer such as overall symptom reduction, reduced breathlessness, fatigue, anxiety and pain. One recent study by Wyatt et al. (2012), “the largest single therapy trial of reflexology to date among a homogeneous sample”, looked at the efficacy of reflexology in women with advanced-staged breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy and / or hormonal therapy. It is also the first study of its kind to evaluate the safety of reflexology.
Methods: Three groups were determined randomly to receive reflexology, lay foot manipulation (LFM) or conventional care (control). The breast-cancer specific reflexes targeted were the nervous system, lung and diaphragm, breast or chest, kidney and adrenal, spleen and intestinal. The reflexology protocol included 30 minutes of reflex stimulation using deep thumb-walking technique (Byers, 2001) while the LFM was made similar to reflexology omitting thumb-walking and direct stimulation of breast-cancer specific reflexes. Reflexology or LFM treatments were administered four times a week, 30 minutes per session. Conventional care was given to all three groups during the study.
Findings: No adverse events were reported. The significant differences between study groups were physical function, dyspnea (shortness of breath) and fatigue, where the reflexology group reported significant improvements in all three. The LFM group reported lower scores on fatigue severity compared to the control group (the first study to do so). There were no differences found between the three groups on breast cancer-specific quality of life, depressive symptoms, anxiety, pain and nausea.
Conclusions: The authors concluded that reflexology (and LFM) can be used safely in future studies and practice, taking into account routine precautions such as open sores and painful neuropathy. Reflexology can be suggested as supportive care for women with advanced-stage breast cancer during chemotherapy and / or hormonal therapy (even the most fragile patients), particularly when dyspnea is a symptom of concern.