Reflexology and Cancer

Reflexology and Cancer

Mar 29, 2021

What is reflexology?

Reflexologists work the feet in a systematic way that stimulates corresponding organs and glands in the body. This supports the body to restore health as best as it can. Nerves are stimulated in such a way that they fire signals to the cells and organs they are connected to.

Some primary effects of reflexology

Kunz and Kunz (2008) identified the following primary effects that Reflexology demonstrates and which can now be confirmed thanks to modern technology:

  1. fMRI readings show that reflexology has an impact on specific organs. Reflexology, applied to a specific part of the foot, activated the reflected area in the brain. Specifically, technique stimulation applied to the inner lateral corner of the left great toe activated the right temporal lobe, the part of the brain related to the reflex area (Nakamaru et al. 2008)
  2. An amelioration of symptoms such as an improved kidney functioning with kidney dialysis patients. Using Doppler sonography, Sudmeier et al. (1999) were able to show that blood flow through the kidneys increased during reflexology treatments. This is highly beneficial as the renal blood flow helps transport nutrients to cells and removes waste materials
  3. A relaxation effect where EEG’s measure a drop in blood pressure and a lowering in anxiety levels.
  4. A reduction in pain was evident in patients with a variety of illnesses such as AIDS, kidney stones, peripheral neuropathy, cancer etc.


Reflexology is beneficial as it

-      Helps to relax

-      Provides a coping mechanism

-      Helps patients to better cope with stress and anxiety

-      Relaxes the mind

-      Helps to relieve the side effects of the treatment through detoxification

-      Helps to relieve pain

-      Helps to feel more positive

-      Gives a feeling of well being

-      Relieves nausea

The School of Nursing at the University of Canberra organized a ten-minute reflexology treatment for 87 hospitalized cancer patients. The treatment produced a significant and immediate effect on the patients’ perceptions of pain, nausea and relaxation when measured with a visual analogue scale (measurement instrument for subjective characteristics or attitudes that cannot be directly measured) (Grealish, L., Lomasney, A. & Whiteman, B., 2000).

A clinical experience with a client with mesothelioma and only months to live: after three weekly treatments combining Reiki and reflexology, the pain experienced had decreased to such a level that he was able to reduce the morphine dosages taken in the morning and at night. At the same time, he was also able to stop taking the quick release morphine during the day. The result from the treatments was that his and his family’s quality of life had improved.

Research conducted by Stephenson et al. (2000) shows how reflexology affects anxiety and pain. Twenty-three, mostly female, patients with breast or lung cancer received a 30-minute reflexology treatment. It was found that both groups experienced a significant decrease in anxiety and that one of three pain measures showed that the breast cancer patients experienced a significant decrease in pain.



Teagarden & Morris (2013) suggest that there is no clear distinction between a reflexology and a medical treatment and this needs to be addressed to avoid potential problems. They also recognize the strong bond that exists between many providers and their patients. In their conclusion they encourage researchers to standardize the reporting of trials.


Grealish, L., Lomasney, A. & Whiteman, B.(2000). Foot Massage: A nursing intervention to modify the distressing symptoms of pain and nausea in patients hospitalized with cancer. Cancer Nurse23(3), 237-43. (On-line review: "Reflexology Used for Cancer Patients," Internet Health Library, October 11, 2000)

Kunz, B. & Kunz, K. (2008). Evidence-based reflexology for health professionals and researchers: The evidenced-based reflexology series.

Nakamaru, T., Miura, N., Fukushima, A. & Kawashima, R.. (2008). Somatotopical relationships between cortical activity and reflex areas in reflexology: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Neuroscience Letters 448(1), 6-9. Doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2008.10.022. Epub 2008 Oct 14

Sudmeier, I., et al. (1999). Anderund der nierendurchblutung durch organassozilerte reflexzontherapie am fuss gemussen mit farbkodierter Doppler-sonograhpie. Universitatsklinik fur Innere Medizin, Inssbruk, Austria. Forsch Komplementarmed, 6(3), 129-34.

Stephenson, N.L.N., Weirich, S.P. & Tavakoli, A.S. (2000). The effects of foot reflexology on anxiety and pain in patients with breast and lung cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum. 27(1).  Retrieved from reflexology%20on%20Anxiety%20and%20Pain.pdf

Teagarden, K. & Morris, D. (2013). What does the research say about reflexology? University of Minnosota. Retrieved from