Complementary Therapy for Children Undergoing Stem Cell Transplant

Complementary therapies such as massage and humor therapy may not help children cope with the potential emotional distress associated with stem cell transplantation, according to findings recently reported in Cancer.

Stem cell transplantation involves the use of high doses of therapy to kill more cancer cells than standard doses. This approach may be used in adults and children for the treatment of hematologic malignancies (cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukemias and lymphomas) as well as some solid tumors.

Complementary therapies are therapies most often used to supplement conventional medical treatments by promoting wellness, managing symptoms, or stimulating the immune system. Examples of complementary therapies include massage, humor (laughter) therapy, relaxation, and meditation.

Stem cell transplantation can be a rigorous process—particularly for children, who may experience a high level of distress during treatment. In an effort to ease this distress, researchers evaluated whether complementary therapies could help young patients cope with treatment.

Children undergoing stem cell transplantation at four cancer centers were assigned to receive one of the following interventions:

  • Massage therapy and humor therapy
  • Massage and humor therapy plus massage and relaxation therapy for the child’s parent
  • Standard care

Levels of emotional distress were similar across the three study groups, suggesting that the complementary therapy interventions did not reduce distress. The interventions also did not appear to improve medical outcomes, including length of hospitalization, timing of transplant, or need for medications for pain and nausea and vomiting.

It appears that intervention with these complementary therapies does not effectively reduce emotional distress among children undergoing stem cell transplantation.

Reference: Phipps S, Barrera M, Vannatta K, et al. Complementary therapies for children undergoing stem cell transplantation. Cancer [early online publication.] July 12, 2010.