Therapeutic Touch and Cancer Pain

By Jenny Pham

In a world with major advancements in the pharmacological aspects of pain management, 80% of cancer patients still admit that their pain management is subpar. Because of the detrimental side effects of chemotherapy, non-pharmacological intervention is becoming a necessity to act as an alternative, non-invasive therapy that can potentially help cancer patients. Therapeutic touch (TT) is one such non-pharmacological intervention that was developed in the 1970s and has slowly been gaining popularity as complementary therapies have become more accepted. TT is a form of complementary therapy which involves positive physical contact between a practitioner and patient and can be used to help alleviate general pain, anxiety, and insomnia in addition to cancer pain.

There are several trials that show how TT reduced the pain experienced by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. In one such trial, sixty cervical cancer patients who were being treated with chemoradiation were randomly placed into three groups. Each group integrated either TT or relaxation therapy or standard care alongside the standard medical treatment of weekly chemotherapy and external beam radiation. After six weeks of treatment, patients receiving TT displayed relative preservation of their natural killer (NK) cell activity, while patients receiving relaxation therapy and standard care showed significant decline in NK cell activity. Because the NK cells play an important part in immune defense, the evidence of the immune-preserving effects of TT may be clinically significant.


Although there has been some controversy over whether or not therapeutic touch is an effective method, it is still important for a pharmacist to be well informed on the subject. A pharmacist needs to not only be knowledgeable and prepared for pharmacological questions and treatments, but also any non-pharmacologic questions a patient might have. For more detailed information on therapeutic touch, please visit the sources below.


Aghabati N, Mohammadi E, Esmaiel, Z. The Effect of Therapeutic Touch on Pain and Fatigue of Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (Ecam). September 2010:7(3):375-381.

Hart L, Freel M, Haylock P, Lutgendorf S. The Use of Healing Touch in Integrative Oncology. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. October 2011:15(5)519-525.




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