Aromatherapy and Cancer

How Aromatherapy May Help With Cancer

Aromatherapy is a complementary modality which has been shown to assist those with Cancer in their personal programmes of healing in addition to that prescribed by their doctors.  Whilst many “alternative” health practitioners profess to be “healers”, ultimately doctors and complementary therapies work together to facilitate a healing or palliative process within individuals, depending upon the severity of their disease. 

There are many ways in which aromatherapy can help those who are dealing with the many side effects and conditions associated with cancer and the various treatments prescribed to sufferers.  In this article, I endeavour to provide some insights to some very important questions.


Am I able to have a massage whilst I have cancer?

During the course of acquiring their Diplomas, Aromatherapists are advised to seek permission from the client’s doctors if the client has been in remission for less than two years whether they are intending to work with essential oils or just with massage.  Guidelines vary according to the various medical specialists.  Some say that it is okay to massage cancer patients, whilst others warn that even the lightest style of massage may encourage metastases (secondary cancers) to develop. 


How can aromatherapy help with my emotional stress?

When confronted with “the big C” it is natural for people to experience a high degree of emotional stress.  After all, you are worried out how your family are going to cope.  You may be fretting about how you are going to cope financially.  You are grieving for your life and the way it is about to change.  In addition to all of this, you may be confronted by the big question of your own mortality.  High degrees of emotional stress can hinder the body’s healing process, so getting yourself back on an emotional “even keel” is crucial. 

Essential oils can become your best friend in helping you in dealing with your anxiety, stress and depression.  Did you know that when you peel an orange or mandarin and you get a light spray of aroma that you are actually experiencing the essential oils of these fruits naturally?  Guess what, citrus fruits are a wonderful natural anti-depressant.  However, when they are being expressed from an orange or mandarin when you are eating the fruit the essential oils are in a very diluted form and in most instances are unlikely to cause skin sensitisation (which can occur when you are unwell).

One way that we can use these essential oils safely is with a vaporiser or essential oil diffuser.  Up to six drops of essential oils can be placed into the vaporiser or diffuser at a time. Some lovely essential oils that are helpful with anxiety, stress and depression are:

  • Lavender (Lavendula Augustifolia)
  • Neroli (Citrus Aurantium var amara)
  • Sweet Orange (Citrus Aurantium Sinensis)
  • Petitgrain (Citrus Aurantium amara)
  • Cedarwood (Cedrus Atlantica)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium Graveolens)
  • Melissa (Melissa Officinalis)
  • Rose Otto (Rose Centifolia)
  • Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis)
  • Ylang Ylang (Cananga Odorata)
  • Vetiver (Vetiver Zizanoides)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum Album)


What Can I Use For My Insomnia?

One Australian Aromatherapist who suffered Breast Cancer found that True Melissa (Melissa Officinalis), Valerian (Valariana Wallichii) and Spikenard (Nardostachys Jatamansi) in a vaporiser was very effective.

Other oils which may be useful are:

  • Lavender (Lavendula Augustifolia)
  • Vetiver (Vetiver Zizanoides)
  • Clary Sage (Salvia Sclarea)
  • German Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla)


What Can I use for the the Lymphodoema?

Some sources say that approved Manual Lymphatic Drainage may be carried out 20 months after surgery. Essential oils may also be used in this treatment according to skin condition and mood, the type of massage normally associated with Aromatherapy which incorporates lymphatic drainage may not be helpful as the person is likely to feel bloated, tight and uncomfortable. 

Essential oils are best used without massage through vaporisers, compressors, in creams, baths and on tissues.

Post-radiation, a spray of Lavender and Geranium in water and almond oil has an anti-inflammatory effect and promotes skin integrity.


What can I use to stimulate my appetite?

There are some people who advocate the ingestion of essential oils.  This is not recommended.  Your body is already sensitive (more so than when you are healthy).  Ingestion of essential oils can sometimes lead to a burnt digestive track.  Now more than ever is a time to be gentle with yourself.

Essential oils like Cardamon, Ginger, any of the citrus oils, and Peppermint are helpful when used in a vaporiser or on a tissue.  You may like to try drinking Peppermint or Ginger herbal tea as well. 


How can I calm down these skin reactions / eczema?

White Besonite Clay and Lavender (Lavendula Augustifolia) has been shown to prevent burning and redness of the skin when applied to the entire mapped.

Use 1ml of Lavender essential oil in 50 grams of white clay.

5 drops of Lavender oil (Lavendula Augustifolia) in 1ml of infused St Johns Wort (which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties) has also been shown to take the redness away.

The following blend may also be applied 1-4 times a day to alleviate pain, redness and risk of infection.

50ml of Aloe Vera gel, Calendula or Jojoba with 10% Rosehip with:

  • Bergamot 4 drops
  • German Chamomile 4 drops
  • Cedarwood 4 drops

For flaking and peeling of skin (Dry Desquamation), the combination of  ½ cornstarch and ½ red Besonite clay will draw out toxins and promote regeneration whilst a blend of Geranium (2 drops), German Chamomile (6 drops) and Patchouli (4 drops) in 50 ml of Aloe Vera, Calendula or Jojoba with 10% Rosehip has been shown to reduce inflammation and itching, as well as having a balancing effect on the body.

If moist desquamation occurs (that which results from the complete destruction and removal of epidermis, comparable to a second degree burn), a daily application of a green clay poultice (1 teaspoon of clay), 1 drop of Neroli and spring water may be applied over gauze to draw out impurities and inflammation.  Once the area becomes tingly, a compress with Lavender Floral Water may then be applied.

Atrophy (caused by damage to vascular and connective tissue) occurs when following radiation, the epidermis becomes thin and fragile.  Cedarwood, Lavender, Black Pepper, Jasmine, Neroli, Ginger and Grapefruit may be used to alleviate this problem.

Black Pepper, Neroli, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Grapefruit and Lemon ease Fibrosis (where the skin is left feeling uneven and hard).

Telaietasia (the spider appearance of blood vessels caused by the dilation and oedema of blood vessels, occlusion of capillaries and reduction in the number of functioning vessels) may be eased by using Cypress, Geranium, Black Pepper, Juniper, Lavender and Lemon.


What can I use for nausea?

Sprinkle Peppermint, Ginger or Cardamon essential oil on a tissue. Add up to 5 drops of these oils to Jojoba or Sweet Almond oil and rub on the stomach.


How can I calm down those hot flushes?

Sprinkle Peppermint, Ginger or Cardarmon essential oil on a tissue. Add up to 5 drops of these oils to Jojoba or Sweet Almond oil and rub on the stomach.

I personally use a blend of peppermint and Neroli essential oils in a Lavender hydrosol which I use in a spritz bottle.


What about these cold bones?

A cream or Jojoba and Sweet Almond Oil with Ginger, Sweet Marjoram, Cypress and/or Black Pepper (all warming oils) may be of benefit.

A simple vegetable-based, unscented cream would be ideal to use.

A suggested blend is as follows:

  • Sweet Marjoram 7 drops
  • Cypress 12 drops
  • Black Pepper 2 drops
  • Lemongrass 2 drops

One or two drops with a warm compress may also be of benefit.


As well as being the author of Peacock Dreaming: The Wisdom Of Flowers and Lovitude:  Trying To Calm The Monkey Mind, Anne McCormack is also a qualified Clinical Aromatherapist.  Anne has practised and presented courses and workshops in Australia, and has been a guest speaker for organisations such as the NSW Encore Support Group for Breast Cancer.  If you would like to know more about how Aromatherapy can help easing cancer symptoms and side effects, you can contact me here:



Petrea King, Spirited Women:  Journeys with Breast Cancer, Random House Australia, Sydney, 1995

Shirley Price, Aromatherapy Workbook, Thorsons, San Francisco, 1993

Salvatore Battaglia, The Complete Guide To Aromatherapy, The Perfect Potion, Queensland, 1995

Sarah Potter, Lymphodoema:  Causes and Management, Simply Essential, Issue No 19, February 1996

Avril Lunken, Lymphodoema and Aromatherapy, Aromatherapy Today, Volume 5, March 1998

Robyn McMillan, Effects of Radiation Therapy on Skin, Simply Essential, Issue No 27, February 1998

Sylvia Bennett, Aromatherapy For People With Cancer, Simply Essential, Issue No 21, August 1996

Donna Arthur, A Personal Healing Process After Breast Cancer Surgery and Radiotherapy, Notes from Australasian Aromatherapy Conference, Sydney 1998

Feature image courtesy of monicore via pixabay

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