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Jan. 27, 2016

At-home therapies help cancer patients cope

When it comes to cancer and its treatments, a person’s quality of life can be greatly affected.

Michigan State University researchers are testing two at-home, therapeutic approaches to help patients deal with their side effects through a $2.1 million National Institutes of Health grant.

Gwen Wyatt, a professor in the College of Nursing, is comparing the benefits of reflexology and meditation when given by a friend or family member and determining which best suits the patient. She will be leading the study with Alla Sikorskii, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Statistics and Probability and Rebecca Lehto, an associate professor also in the College of Nursing.

“People are so unique in their symptom experience and often turn to complementary therapies such as these to help reduce the negative effects of their disease and maintain a functional daily life,” said Wyatt, who is also a registered nurse.

Determining which therapies work best for each patient and deciding if additional time is needed or another therapy should be added are all questions this research looks to answer.

“Dr. Sikorskii designed this study to determine if a patient would benefit most from additional weeks of one therapy, or if the combination of the two therapies will work best for certain patients,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt’s previous research has shown reflexology, a deep pressure technique applied to specific areas of the foot, to be highly effective in managing symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue.

“What we found was after four weekly sessions of reflexology, patients reported a significant decrease in feeling short of breath,” she said. “We also discovered that patients could function better on a daily basis and felt more active.”

Meditation strategies also have been proven helpful for managing symptoms such as worry and insomnia, and for enhancing perceived quality of life.

“Dr. Lehto has developed ways to provide mindfulness training to patients by helping them learn meditation, controlled breathing and gentle yoga practices,” Wyatt said.

Using these skills, Wyatt and her colleagues anticipate that some patients may be able to self-regulate certain bodily responses, minimizing other side effects.

During the study, a trained friend or family member will provide both therapies in the homes of more than 300 patients suffering from breast, lung or colon cancer.

“Many caregivers are willing to assist in this way and will be taught by trained providers on what to do when administering both techniques,” Wyatt said. “For example, with reflexology, there’s a check list of 10 steps to follow that ensures specific reflexes are stimulated with the proper amount of pressure and time.”

Ultimately, the research will give both patients and caregivers the tangible tools needed to potentially make life better and more manageable during cancer.