Until fairly recently, most people in the West probably viewed essential oils as something that simply smelled nice but that narrow view has been changing over the past few decades. The public is becoming far more familiar with the health benefits of these volatile natural oils and they are increasingly being used to help treat a wide variety of illnesses.
Before I go any further, I should note that there is no published evidence that essential oils can be used to treat cancer specifically but there have been numerous studies into their effect on many of the symptoms of cancer such as anxiety, fatigue and other quality of life measurements.
Aromatherapy is a popular complementary option for those suffering with cancer or the symptoms associated with cancer treatment. Essential oil therapy can help make people feel considerably better and is a convenient way of treating your symptoms at home or under the guidance of qualified aroma therapists.
As well as the many individual testimonials, there is some scientific evidence that aromatherapy massage and vapor treatment can help with some the following symptoms caused by the illness and its treatment.
1. Essential oils for anxiety and depression
Maintaining a positive attitude and sound emotional health is a very important but extremely challenging aspect in coping with a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Certain essential oils are known to have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.
Because the tiny molecules of these volatile liquids pass easily into the body, they are able to reach emotional center of the brain and positively affect the emotions. Essential oil used for anxiety include lavender, bergamot and frankincense and you can find a more detailed analysis here.
Several trials have been conducted to examine the effects of essential oil on anxiety including this relatively small scale Japanese study published in 2009. Twelve breast cancer patients received 30 minutes who received aromatherapy massages twice a week for a month experienced significantly reduced anxiety symptoms both short and long term.
These encouraging results led researchers to suggest aromatherapy was a viable complimentary treatment for anxiety in patients with breast cancer (1) An earlier British study published in 1998 also examined the effects of essential oil massage on 58 cancer patients most of whom were suffering from breast cancer.
After receiving 6 aromatherapy treatments all of the patients experienced significant improvements in depression and anxiety.
A larger scale British study published in 2007 sought to examine the effects of aromatherapy massage to reduce anxiety and depression in 280 patients with advanced cancer. All of those taking part were suffering from depression or anxiety and half were given their normal supportive care while the other half were treated with aromatherapy massage. The study found that those treated with essential oil massage were less depressed and anxious for up to 6 weeks following treatment but there was no difference in the longer term. (2)
Another study published in 2004 examined the effects of massage therapy with lavender oil on 42 patients with advanced cancer. The researchers found that those treated with massage therapy experienced reduced depression and significantly improved sleep compared to those who had no massage treatment. (3)
These results seem to confirm an earlier study from 1999 which assessed the impact of essential oil massage therapy on 103 cancer patients. Come patients were massaged with just a carrier oil while others were treated with Roman chamomile essential oil. Both groups experienced reduced anxiety but those treated with the essential oil had greater improvements in both psychological and physical symptoms as well as overall life quality measures. (4)
2. Essential oils for the symptoms of cancer treatments
As well as the illness itself, cancer treatments are likely to cause extremely unpleasant side effects. The two major treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, are totally different in nature but can elicit very similar unpleasant side effects.
Radiation can cause severe skin and organ damage so many people recommend the use of soothing antioxidant essential oils applied topically to minimize the damage and help your overall feelings of wellbeing.
Sandalwood, frankincense and peppermint essential oils are among those recommended in combination with a good quality carrier oil. Gently massage any affected areas of your skin once or twice each day for soothing relief.
Nausea and upset stomach is a very common side effect from both forms of treatment. Feelings of nausea can be reduced by using several essential oils. Peppermint, lemon and ginger are especially effective in relieving nausea and can be either massaged behind the ears or around the navel.
Alternatively, you can add a few drops of your essential oil to a warm compress and apply it to your stomach. Inhaling the essential oils directly from a bottle when needed is probably the simplest method but it is also very effective.
While there is no research examining the effect of aromatherapy on nausea caused by cancer treatment, research has found that lemon essential oil was effective in significantly reducing feelings of nausea and vomiting in women suffering from morning sickness. (5)
Neuropathy is a common side effect of chemotherapy and essential oils can go a long way towards treating these symptoms. Essential oils like frankincense, lavender, roman chamomile and helichrysum are all able to help treat neuropathy. For a more detailed look at the essential oils used for neuropathy see here.
If you are suffering from pain caused by your illness, many essential oils offer natural pain relief owing to their anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities. Certain essential oils can be used as an effective natural approach to ease pain caused by headaches, joint and muscle inflammation.
Lavender, peppermint, wintergreen, German chamomile and helichrysum are among the most effective pain relieving essential oils but there are many more. We discuss the uses of essential oil for pain relief in greater detail in this article.
4. Essential oils to boost immunity
It is vitally important to maintain a strong and healthy immune system and his is especially important during the early stages of the illness prior to aggressive treatments. Essential oils are an effective natural approach to boosting the immune system for those suffering various forms of cancer including prostate cancer, breast cancer and skin cancer.
Certain essential oils can be used in combination with a carrier oil to massage into the body and offer immune system support.
Frankincense essential oil for the immune system
Effective oils include lemon, tea tree, rosemary, pine and thyme essential oil. However recent research has demonstrated that frankincense essential oil boost the immune system unlike any other oil. Frankincense oil helps white blood cells to proliferate and keep inflammation at bay. His might also explain why frankincense is considered such an effective treatment for a number of autoimmune conditions like Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rheumatism.
Always make sure that you dilute your essential oil with a suitable carrier oil before applying them to your skin.
5. Research into Frankincense essential oil and cancer
While this article intends to offer advice regarding the complementary use of essential oils, it would be remiss not to at least mention some of the recent research that has taken place into the effects of frankincense essential oil on cancer cells. Recent research conducted by the University of Oklahoma found that frankincense destroyed bladder cancer cells while not harming healthy cells; a process known as apoptosis. (6)
More recent research by the University of Leicester in England demonstrated that frankincense essential oil had the potential to treat ovarian cancer even when the cancer is in its later stages. (7)
The research so far into the effects of frankincense essential oil on cancer cells is extremely promising and more research results are on the horizon; they might offer new hope to those suffering from this terrible disease.