Aromatherapy, as the name suggests, uses the aroma of essential oils or concentrated oils made from the fruit, seeds, flowers, bark, leaves, or root of certain plants. Aromatherapists believe that these oils have certain beneficial properties when applied massaged into the skin or even by just inhaling their aroma. Among other benefits, aromatherapy is known to relieve anxiety/ stress, promote well-being, and refresh the body

Aromatherapy and Cancer

As complementary and supportive therapies are being sought by most cancer patients, aromatherapy is being preferred by many for the therapeutic properties of essential oils used. Among other methods, three major ways of utilizing these oils in aromatherapy include:

  1. Inhalation
  2. Massage or local application
  3. Essential Oil baths

Theoretically speaking, the chemical components in essential oils bind to the receptors in the olfactory bulb which in turn impact the brain’s limbic system which primarily deals with functions like emotion and memory. Topical application can also have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects.

Many cancer patients use Aromatherapy along with treatments like massage, acupuncture, etc. to manage symptoms. These patients have shown improvement in mood, anxiety/ stress levels, nausea, and pain. There is no reported study of aromatherapy being used to treat cancer.


Year Diagnosis Significant results Comments
2008 Terminally ill patients

with various cancer types

showed more significant 

changes in pain and

depression scores

Aromatherapy hand

massage had positive

effect on pain and


1995 Various types of cancer Anxiety scores were

significantly reduced over time

in the massage with essential oils

group only


improved over time

according to the

symptom distress scale

2001 Malignant Brain Tumor Decrease in systolic and diastolic

blood pressure, heart and

respiratory rate


interviews carried out

one week after

treatment revealed that

patients felt more

‘relaxed’ and ‘less


A word of caution: Since there are hundreds of essential oils, it is difficult to list all of them. Further, some people might be allergic to certain oils. Also, cancer treatment can make your skin weaker. Therefore, it is necessary to visit a trained and experienced aromatherapist before you start this treatment.

References & More Information

  1. Credit: Beyond Conventional Care Therapies
  2. Integrative Oncology Cancer Care
  3. Aromatherapy. Cancer Research UK.
  4. Ali B, Al-Wabel NA et al. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: a systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine.  2015 Aug;5(8):601-611
  5.  Aromatherapy and Essential Oils (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute.
  6. Katja Boehm, Arndt Büssing, and Thomas Ostermann. Aromatherapy as an Adjuvant Treatment in Cancer Care — A Descriptive Systematic Review. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2012; 9(4): 503–518. Table 3.
  7. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Aromatherapy.
  8.  The Story of Aromatherapy in India. How Aromatherapy is Entwined in Our Culture.

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