There is no scientific evidence to prove that aromatherapy can cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer. But there are a few studies to suggest that aromatherapy may be a helpful complementary therapy for people with cancer and other types of illness.
Aromatherapy is one of the complementary therapies most likely to be offered to patients in cancer clinics and hospitals.
In 2009 a review reported on 6 studies carried out from 2000 to 2008 which used essential oils for patients with depression or depressive symptoms. In 3 of the studies the patients had cancer. Some of thestudies showed reduced anxiety and depression in people with cancer. The authors said that the evidenceis weak though and they recommend further research to find out more about the effects of aromatherapy and also how it affects the mind and body.
A UK trial in 2007 tested whether adding aromatherapy massage to usual supportive care could reduce anxiety and depression in people with advanced cancer. 280 patients took part and they all had anxiety or depression. Half the patients had usual supportive care. The other half had supportive care plus aromatherapy massage. The researchers found that patients who had aromatherapy massage were less anxious or depressed for up to 2 to 6 weeks after the massage but there was no difference at 10 weeks. Further research is needed to compare aromatherapy and massage with other ways of treating anxiety and depression.
An American study published in The Journal of Palliative Medicine in 2004 looked at the use of massage and aromatherapy in 42 people who had advanced cancer. These people were divided into 3 groups: Group 1 had weekly massages over 4 weeks, Group 2 had massages using lavender oil, Group 3 had no massages at all. At the end of the trial, people in groups 1 and 2 were sleeping much better and had less depression than those in group 3.
An American study in 2004 showed that aromatherapy after surgery can reduce feelings of sickness. 33 patients took part and they inhaled alcohol, oil of peppermint, or salt water (placebo). They breathed in the vapors from gauze pads and then breathed out slowly through the mouth. Only 52% of the patients needed standard anti sickness medicines. But the salt water worked as well as the peppermint and the alcohol. So it may be that the helpful effect of the aromatherapy was due to the controlled breathing patterns rather than the actual smell breathed in.
In 1999 a study assessed the effects of aromatherapy massage and massage therapy on 103 people with cancer in a palliative care setting. Some people had massage using only a carrier oil, and some had an aromatherapy massage with the essential oil Roman Chamomile. People in both groups had lower levels of anxiety. But those who had Roman Chamomile oil massage seemed to have more improvement in physical and psychological symptoms and in overall quality of life.
In 1998 a UK study looked at the effects of aromatherapy in 58 cancer patients. Most of these patients were women with breast cancer who said that they would like aromatherapy to help them with feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and fear. Each patient had 6 aromatherapy treatments during the study. At the end of these treatments all the patients showed a significant improvement in their feelings of anxiety, depression and stress.
Most studies so far have been small and don’t provide enough evidence to come to any conclusions about the true benefits of aromatherapy massage in people with cancer.