Written by Helen Cooke and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated January 20, 2017

Therapeutic Touch

Does it work?

Three randomized controlled trials (one reported as 9-11, 12, 13), one small non-randomized controlled trial 14 and one open-label case-control study 15 are available. These trials have been included in various combinations in seven literature reviews (1-3, 6, 16-18), sometimes in combination with qualitative studies. Although some trials suggest that Therapeutic Touch (TT) may reduce pain, fatigue and improve general wellbeing the evidence is not consistent and all individual studies have methodological limitations (also highlighted by the reviews).

Controlled clinical trials

A randomized clinical trial (RCT) evaluated the effect of TT onpain-relatedparameters of in 90 male patients with cancer 9. The intervention consisted of TT in 7 sessions for a 4-week period, placebo TT (hands were placed around the body as a gesture, with distance from the body, and were moved without a certain order) or standard care. Several parameters on pain scales were assessed: general activity, mood, walking ability, relations with other people and sleep. At the end of the TT sessions, significant differences were observed between the three groups (p= 0.001). The differences were significant between the TT and placebo TT groups as well as between the TT and untreated control groups but not between the placebo TT and control group.

A further RCT examined the effects of TT onpain and fatigueof cancer patients (n=90) undergoing chemotherapy 10. Patients received TT (30 min, once a day for 5 days), placebo (“mimic”) TT or standard care. The authors reported significant decreases in both VAS-measured pain and in the Rhoten Fatigue Scale for TT groups compared to placebo TT or standard care. The placebo group indicated a trend in decreasing pain and fatigue scores compared with the usual care group.

A single-blind RCT (Matourypour 2015, Matourypour 2016, Vanaki 2016) assessed the effects of TT (once for 20 min on the aura/human energy field focusing on solar chakra) compared to placebo TT (pretending to perform TT) and control (no treatment) onchemotherapy-induced nausea and vomitingin women with breast cancer 11-13. Although statistically significant differences between the no treatment control group and the TT group and between the no treatment control group and the placebo TT group were reported, no difference between the real and placebo TT groups was noted suggesting non-specific effects of TT.

Preliminary data are available from a small non-randomised controlled trial (n=20) in persons with terminal cancer in palliative care 14. Participants received three non-contact TT treatments (n = 10), participants in the control group (n = 10) participated in three rest periods. The authors report improvedwell-being assessed using the a visual analogue scale measuring pain, nausea, depression, anxiety, shortness of breath, activity, appetite, relaxation, and inner peace. The methodological quality of the study was however rated as very low.

A case-control, open-label pilot study evaluated the feasibility of TT in preventingradiotherapy dermatitisin women with breast cancer (n= 49) 15. Although the intervention was considered feasible, there was no difference between cohorts for the overall EORTC cosmetic score and there was no significant difference in before and after study levels in quality of life, mood and fatigue. The control cohort who did not receive TT (n=32) were recruited after the study. The cohort had the same inclusion/exclusion criteria and followed the same study schedule as the experimental cohort but did not receive TT.


Helen Cooke, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Therapeutic Touch [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Therapeutic-Touch. January 20, 2017.

Document history

Most recent revision and update in November 2016 by Helen Cooke and Barbara Wider.

Updated in July 2014 by Helen Cooke.

Summary first published in September 2012, authored by Helen Cooke.


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