Healing Touch Reduced Fatigue and Nausea in Leukemia Patients

October 9, 2008

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Healing Touch therapy provided significant benefit to patients hospitalized for treatment of adult acute leukemia, in terms of reducing fatigue and nausea, according to research conducted at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

The researchers reported in the summer 2008 issue of the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology that, although no significant improvement was recorded in terms of reducing pain or distress, further investigation in a larger group of patients is warranted.
After an initial survey, the study focused on a group of 12 leukemia patients who had been admitted to the hospital for induction or re-induction chemotherapy for treatment of acute lymphocytic or myelogenous leukemia at Wake Forest Baptist, which admits about 10 such patients each month.

“These are patients who experience a variety of treatment-related symptoms, and their energy is sapped by both their disease and the treatment,” said Suzanne C. Danhauer, Ph.D., assistant professor of internal medicine-hematology and oncology and lead author of the study. “Although this project was very limited in the number of participants, it shows that there is great potential to benefit hospitalized patients with this kind of support.”

Healing Touch (HT) is a biofield- or energy-based therapy recognized by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health. HT is practiced by a caregiver, often a nurse, who demonstrates a compassionate intent to the patient through light touch or placement and movement of the hands just off the body.

In earlier studies and in anecdotal reporting, HT has increased a sense of well-being and reduced distress in patients, although there is no scientific consensus on the specific physiologic or psychological pathways by which that occurs. Citing earlier studies, the Wake Forest researchers say in the article that physiologically, biofield therapies such as HT may affect the autonomic nervous system. It is possible that the relaxation response may help explain the effects of HT. Some previous studies suggest that biofield healing may decrease stress and even enhance immune function.

In the Wake Forest study, patients were enrolled and baseline measures taken within a week of being hospitalized. The researchers were interested in changes in levels of fatigue, nausea, distress, and pain, during both individual treatment sessions and over the course of five weeks.

Conducted by certified practitioners, the treatment began during the second week and consisted of three sessions per week in three consecutive weeks. Using standard scientific measures for each symptom, the researchers recorded levels before and after the second session each week. A final overall measure was taken during the fifth week.

During the individual sessions, on a scale of 0 to 10, levels of fatigue went down by an average of 1.8 and levels of nausea by an average of 0.5. There was no significant change in levels of distress and pain, and for the full five weeks there was no significant change in any of the symptoms, although three patients reported individually that pain and muscle tension had improved. One patient stated, “I would recommend [HT] to anyone in pain. I was amazed at the results.”

“An overwhelming majority of patients … liked HT ‘very much,’” the researchers say in the article. “All patients found the HT sessions to be ‘quite a bit’ or ‘very much’ helpful. Eight patients … wanted to continue using HT. All patients reported that they would recommend HT to others.”

The researchers say that further studies in larger groups are needed, and that control groups, which were lacking in this study, should be included. “This pilot study has shown that a larger study is feasible and that HT can be incorporated in the hospital setting.”

Co-authors were Janet A. Tooze, Ph.D., assistant professor of biostatistical sciences, Paige Holder, B.S., Christina Miller, B.S., Suzanne Carroll, R.N., M.S., Department of Nursing, Deborah Larrimore, R.N., director of Healing Touch education in the Program for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, Cassie R. Campbell, M.A., Comprehensive Cancer Center, Michelle T. Jesse, M.A., Hematology and Oncology, and Kathi J. Kemper, M.D., M.P.H., professor of pediatrics and director of the Program for Complementary and Integrative Medicine – all of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Funding was provided by a pilot grant from the Wake Forest University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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Media Contacts: Bonnie Davis, (336) 716-4977, bdavis@wfubmc.edu; Mark Wright, mwright@wfubmc.edu, or Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, (336) 716-4587.

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