Ways to Use Aromatherapy to Help in Cancer Treatments

By Lara Johnson, Writer/Blogger, Connecticut USA

[content provided by the members of International Federation of Aromatherapists]

The most important thing to know about using aromatherapy with cancer patients is that in the US you need medical permission to do so. This is mainly because there are some important considerations in assessing the suitability of a patient to a particular method of treatment.

Low Platelet Count: Platelets are responsible for helping our blood clot. A low platelet count can cause a patient to bruise very easily. In this case, it would not be advisable to use massage as a method of treatment. It is better to use inhalation and vaporization treatments instead.

Febrile Patients: Fever in patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer may indicate infection. This affects which oils are safe to use. Always check with a doctor before using any oil with a febrile patient.

Low Albumin Level: Patients with a low albumin level will have a higher concentration of essential oils in their system after treatments (Battaglia 1995). It is therefore recommended that a reduced amount of oil be used for treatments on these patients.

Suitable Aromatherapy Oils For Cancer – According To Conditions

Nausea Treatments: A dilution of Ginger Oil can be used to counteract nausea caused by chemotherapy. It is very important to note that only a 1/2% strength is suitable for children. Drinking ginger tea is another good way to make use of this root. The tea should be made regular to weak, not strong. Ginger in food is also a good application.

A very low dilution of Melissa or Peppermint (used with care) help with nausea through their scents alone. Palmarosa and Rosewood could also be recommended for adults, but a low dose is still very important.

Uplifting Mood: Bergamot and Neroli (Millar 1996)

Radiation Burns: A combination of True Lavender and German Chamomile. These could be used as a compress with the aid of an unscented carrier oil or base cream. Treatments would begin the day after the completion of a full radiotherapy course.

Insomnia: True Lavender and Sandalwood. Adults can also use Sweet Marjoram.

Immune Support: Aromatherapy for the immune system works physically through the actions of massage and the oils, and emotionally by balancing and helping the release of tension and bound up negative emotion (Millar 1995). Tea tree, Bergamot (with care), Lavender and Lemon oils are all useful in stimulating the white blood cells that are necessary to prevent and fight infection.

Headaches: Gently massaging the back of the neck, shoulders and scalp with essential oils can help with headaches caused by tension and stress. A blend of Roman Chamomile and Mandarin will act as an antispasmodic for this area while also revitalizing the patient's mood.

All of these blends may be made into compresses or used in a vaporizer. If the blends are used for massage, it is important to keep the dose very low, especially in children.

I have also found that while some patients couldn't tolerate strong odors, they could still tolerate Grapefruit and other citrus scents. Sandalwood also worked well in a low dilution. Most of my patients preferred a single essential oil as opposed to a blend when they were feeling their worst.

Aromatherapy Oils to Avoid For Cancer Patients

Some oils can negatively interact with medications, or further damage already-weakened organs like the liver and kidneys. Following are some oils whose use should be avoided in cancer patients.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) can be an added carcinogen (cancer causing) and is a hepatotoxin (toxic to the liver) if estrazole is less than 10%.

Cinnamon (cinnamum zelanicum): This is an anticoagulant, and is implicated in liver disease and prostate cancer. It is hepatotoxin.

Clove (Szygium aromaticum): Clove is an anticoagulant and interferes with platelet activity. It is implicated in liver disease and prostate cancer, and is a hepatotoxin.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): This is potentially carcinogenic and implicated in liver disease.

Yarrow (Achillaea millefolium), Hyssop (Hyssopus officianalis) and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) are all neurotoxins (damages or interferes with the normal activity of the nervous system).

Sage – Dalmatian (Salvia officianalis) and Sage – Spanish (Salvia lavendulifolia) should be avoided.

Verbena (Litsea citriadora) is a dermal (skin) irritant and sensitiser, and is also phototoxic (causing skin irritation when exposed to sunlight).