Aromatherapy, Gentle Massage and Essential Oils in the Treatment of Cancer




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"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
- Thomas Edison

It takes about 250 pounds of lavender to produce a pound of pure lavender oil, 1,000 pounds of jasmine for 1 pound of pure jasmine oil, and several TONS of rose petals to produce a pound of pure rose oil.

Pesticides are oil-soluble and their residue remains in essential oils extracted from pesticide-treated plants. This is one reason why it is so important that essential oils only be from organically grown plants.

There are three grades of aromatic oil. The first is mostly or entirely artificial. It may smell nice but has no therapeutic value. The second is a natural aromatic oil that has been diluted in order to reduce its price. The therapeutic value is correspondingly less. The third is the pure aromatic oil from organically grown plants, untainted and undiluted by any impurities. These oils possess their full healing potential.


This section comes from the book Aromatherapy An A-Z by Patricia Davis, C.S. Daniel Company Limited, England, 1995. To comply with FDA regulations we have blacked out all mention of specific therapeutic benefits from the use of essential oils. - Editor

It must be stated straight away that aromatherapists do not 'treat' cancer. It would be both unethical and illegal for us to claim to do so. We can, though, offer immense comfort, support and reinforcement for cancer patients, within the framework of treatment that they have chosen. Whether that treatment follows the orthodox route of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy or one or more of the alternatives, such as dietary therapy, visualization, healing, etc., it is a decision that only the person with cancer can make, but whatever the choice, aromatherapy can be a valuable additional therapy provided that certain safeguards are followed.

The first safeguard is that both professional ethics and the safety and well-being of the patient require that no treatment is undertaken without the knowledge and consent of the doctor carrying out the principal treatment.

Some doctors are opposed to any massage for people with cancer, fearing that because of the stimulating effects that massage can have on the lymphatic system, it may accelerate the migration of cancer cells via that system, leading to the formation of secondary cancers. However, it would seem that these fears stem from a knowledge of the more vigorous forms of massage, and with the growth of 'soft' massage techniques such fears have diminished and many more doctors now feel that such gentle therapy cannot harm their patients, and can only do good in terms of relaxation and increased comfort. Massage should not, however, be used for patients with Hodgkins Disease or bone cancer.

Since the development of chemotherapy for cancer, it has repeatedly been said that essential oils should not be used at the same time as chemotherapy or following a course of chemotherapy, at least until the body has been cleared of all residues of cytotoxic drugs. These drugs can lodge in the liver and other body tissues for a long time, being eliminated from the body very gradually. Opinions vary as to how long this might take, with estimates ranging from weeks to years. The ban on using essential oils is based on the fact that they can speed up all eliminative processes and could possibly trigger a rapid release of drug residues into the bloodstream. Great caution is needed when using any technique that increases elimination as this could have unpleasant side effects and possibly more serious consequences. The drugs used to treat cancer are so toxic that dosage has to be extremely carefully monitored when they are originally administered. The physician treads a tightrope between killing the cancer cells and poisoning the patient. After a course of chemotherapy it is impossible to calculate how much of a drug is left in a person's body, because some people will eliminate the residues faster and more efficiently than others.

Some people are now querying this blanket prohibition of essential oils and feel that many factors need to be taken into consideration, including how many courses of chemotherapy have been given, in what dosage and for how long, also whether the patient has followed any detoxifying regime, such as a special diet, after their chemotherapy. The decision in each case must be based on a full knowledge of all the facts, plus observation of the patient's general state. One factor which may have reduced the risks inherent in too-rapid detoxification, is that the use of chemotherapy has been greatly refined in the past 20 years and very much lower doses of the drugs are used now than in the '70s. Many more aromatherapists are working with cancer patients, both within hospitals and in cancer support groups. A growing number of nurses are training in aromatherapy and incorporating this into their work.

Aromatherapists and nurses are increasingly using gentle massage with essential oils to help terminal patients in hospices. Aromatherapy helps to relieve pain and reduce the amount of oedema in limbs following operations. Lavender oil, in particular, can be used to prevent and treat pressure sores as well as to aid sleep. Many of these patients are too weak to take more than a brief, gentle massage to the face and head, or to the hands and feet, but the caring touch of the therapist, combined with the essential oils gives both physical and emotional comfort. Some cancer patients, especially if they have been mutilated by major surgery, or burnt by radiation treatment, feel that their bodies are repugnant or unclean, and for them human touch is even more important, as a way of assuring them that they are human with as much dignity and value as anybody else.

Certain essential oils have been described as anti-cancer agents, but their action has not been proved. Neither has it been disproved, and the traditional uses of plants have been shown to be valid often enough that we should consider using these oils in conjunction with the major forms of treatment. They include Bergamot, Cedar, Clove, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Garlic, Geranium, Hyssop, Onion and Violet leaf. However, any oil which will decrease pain, relieve the side effects of treatment or help the emotional trauma of cancer can be considered, with the proviso that oestrogenic oils should never be used for anybody with breast cancer or other oestrogen-related cancers (cancer of the endometrium, for example).

Two oils of the Melaleuca family, Niaouli and Ti-tree, have been used to reduce surface burning during cobalt radiation treatment. A thin film of essential oil is applied to the skin over the area to be treated before the radiation therapy and has been shown to give some protection. Lavender oil has been used in Norway to treat radiation burns, and has reduced scarring. It has also been used, with Rosemary oil, to stimulate regrowth of hair when the hair has fallen out after chemotherapy, subject, of course, to the safeguards already described.

However, valuable though these physical benefits of essential oils can be, it is on the emotional plane that aromatherapy perhaps has the most to offer as part of a holistic approach to cancer. The uplifting, calming, soothing and antidepressant oils, combined with caring support from a sensitive therapist, can add to the quality of life in a very special way, whatever the final outcome.


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