partners in healing

Breast Cancer Support: How to Reduce Suffering and Bring Comfort through the Simple Use of Touch


Husbands and friends of women with breast cancer can help reduce their symptoms of pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression and nausea from chemotherapy, through the simple use of touch. That was one of the findings of a study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute that evaluated home use of the Touch, Caring and Cancer DVD program. The study was conducted with a total of 97 couples living with 21 different types of cancer. Nearly half--44 of the 97 couples--were living with breast cancer, and most of those were in husband-wife relationships.

In the study, after their care partners gave sessions using the techniques taught in the DVD, the women with breast cancer had average reductions of 34% for stress/anxiety, 29% for fatigue, 26% for pain, 25% for depression, and 22% for nausea.

"These results are surprising in that they are not very different from what you might expect from a professional massage therapist, but they are happening in the comfort of home, several times per week, with a loved one close to her," said William Collinge, PhD, principal investigator of the study. As a result, many couples with breast cancer reported their relationship had grown closer and more intimate through the use of the techniques. See the story of Peggy and Bob here.

The program is now available to the general public in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese languages (plus optional subtitles for the hearing impaired). To see a Preview click here.

Instructional DVD with illustrated 66-page manual, all by leading experts in cancer support and oncology massage

Health & Wellness

Social Issues


PREVIEW -- Click your language: English · Spanish · Mandarin · Cantonese



The Touch, Caring and Cancer Program, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, was developed to help family and friends learn safe and effective ways to provide comfort to cancer patients with the simple use of touch. One of the most important reasons for the project was that many caregivers are reluctant to touch people with cancer for fear of causing harm. As a result, patients often suffer from lack of touch when they could benefit the most. Concern over the presence of lymphedema is one of the reasons often cited for avoiding massage in cancer – even among some massage therapists and medical providers. Yet with proper understanding, lymphedema need not be a reason to withhold the comfort of touch.

While breast cancer may be the first cancer most people think of regarding lymphedema, removal of lymph nodes from other areas besides under the arm also calls for precautions. For example, many people have nodes removed in the neck related to head, neck or throat cancers. In this case the use of manual techniques on that side of the head or face should be used with caution.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter on "Safety Precautions" in the manual that accompanies the new DVD program for home instruction, Touch, Caring and Cancer: Simple Instruction for Family and Friends (to see a preview click here):

“People at risk of lymphedema are sometimes advised to avoid putting stress on an area with lifting, blood pressure readings, sauna or hot tub, tight clothing, overuse of muscles, or other restrictions. If this applies to you, then massage with pressure should also be avoided in that area. Talk with your doctor about your risk of lymphedema and what precautions apply. It is likely that a little massage with soft, gentle hands, with just the pressure of applying lotion, is acceptable.

“The risk of lymphedema from surgery and radiation is still being studied, so ask your doctor about this even if you have not had lymph nodes removed. Figure 1 shows the locations of lymph nodes that are sometimes removed or treated with radiation, and vulnerable areas of the body to treat with caution in massage.”

The good news for women with breast cancer-related lymphedema, or other patients with any location of lympedema, is that there are many ways to achieve the comfort and relaxation benefits of massage by focusing on other areas of the body away from those affected by lymphedema. Spouses and friends can simply avoid those areas affected, and still use simple techniques, as shown in the Touch, Caring and Cancer DVD program, to bring true comfort and relaxation.



“K. and I have a good (nearly 39-year) relationship and soothing touch and muscle rubbing comes naturally to us. I was diagnosed with breast cancer June 25. Had bilateral mastectomies July 11. The Cancer and Caring Project was suggested to us at an oncology appointment. K. certainly offered the massages and touch regularly through the journey and it was a way for us to add connecting. He's said to others it helped him to have something specific to do.
“For Christmas his gift to me was a card saying he was intending to continue 30 minute massages weekly through the coming year :-) So I thank you and him for this continued gift.
“Yes, I am a Breast Cancer Survivor... more accurately a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment survivor... entering the era of thriving again which is my goal.”

More user testimonials...



"I'm a firm believer in training caregivers... this allows them to be able to be a participant. The connection between a caregiver and a patient is very important, and it most likely is going to be that this type of project, where you do have touch and massage going on between a caregiver and a patient, is going to just improve the relationship and also improve the general outcome."
– David Rosenthal, MD, Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center,
and former president, American Cancer Society

"Caregivers need practical tools to be able to feel empowered to help the cancer patient. For example, a lot of people don't know the right way to massage somebody... By having some skills and tools to be able to do it they’ll be able to connect more with the patient--even moreso, they'll feel better themselves. They'll feel like they can make the difference... that's why I think this program is so wonderful--it helps both the patient and the family member to be united, and to say, 'What can we do together to get through this?'"
– Susan Bauer-Wu, PhD, RN, Distinguished Cancer Scholar,
Emory University School of Nursing

"Working with the Touch, Caring and Cancer program at Providence Cancer Center has been a highlight of my massage and nursing career. I have seen this program change people's lives. It has not only reduced pain and anxiety but helped with sleep and relaxation. It has brought couples, family members and friends closer together. One couple called it ‘the best marriage counseling ever'! I have been amazed at the positive results of the techniques taught and how anyone--all ages--could learn and practice them in a very short period of time. I highly recommend this program, you absolutely can't go wrong."
– Mary Malinski, RN, LMT, HN-BC, Nurse Clinician, Integrative Medicine Dept., Providence Cancer Center, Portland, OR


*Oncology massage: The use of massage therapy techniques as a form of supportive or palliative care for the comfort of people with cancer.


About the Book Partners in Healing

The Book

About the DVD Touch, Caring and Cancer

Instructional Video Program

About the Music for Partners in Healing