The physical, emotional and social effects of cancer can be devastating, not only for the sufferer but for family and friends too. Thanks to the research and development of modern medicine we are now better equipped than ever to fight this disease; but the inevitable feelings of stress and anxiety can hamper that fight, unless it is managed. From diagnosis throughout treatment and into recovery, it’s a frightening time for everyone affected. The feelings of helplessness and sometimes hopelessness are difficult to stave off.
Although unproven by scientific study there is evidence from experimental studies to suggest that stress and emotional trauma can affect the growth and spread of cancerous cells. In contrast, people who are able to control their stress have been shown to have lower levels of depression, anxiety and symptoms related to the cancer treatment.
How Aromatherapy can support cancer patients
Research evidence suggests that the use of essential oils can help with stress, anxiety, depression, sleep, pain, headaches, respiratory problems, digestion, fatigue and muscle tension.
Aromatherapy is often used as a ‘complementary’ approach to help reduce and control some of the debilitating side-effects of cancer and its treatment; both physical and emotional.
How best to use Essential Oils
For some cancer patients, wherever they are in their course of treatment; massage to any area of the body may be forbidden, however for many patients, providing the affected area is avoided, gentle massage is ok. The essential oils used in aromatherapy are often best received through hands-on treatment, however mild, so just a simple hand or foot massage can be enough to achieve a desired result.
Alternatively a less invasive way to benefit from essential oils is by inhalation – either by steamer, burner, vapouriser, room spray or nasal inhaler. By breathing the oils in with slow, controlled breaths, the therapeutic properties will be absorbed into the body and start to work almost immediately.
Which Essential Oils can help
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and Anxiety are two of the most common ailments experienced by patients and their loved ones. These feelings are almost inevitable and difficult to suppress without support. The key oils which can help calm anxious feelings and help induce relaxation are Rose, Geranium, Lavender, Clary Sage and Chamomile. Adding a few drops of oil into a bath after it has finished running, is a great way of relaxing whilst absorbing the great benefits of the oils. For children or individuals with sensitive skin add the oil to a tablespoon of milk before adding to the bath, this can also improve dispersion.Note: – areas of the body which are to be avoided should be considered when using this method.
The process of Chemotherapy treatment is exhausting, even during rest periods, as the body works to regenerate cells. This feeling of fatigue can be combated with pungent oils such as Lime, Peppermint, Basil and Grapefruit, as they can help re-energise, lift your mood and allow you to focus.
Chemotherapy is likely to induce the feelings of Nausea. Spearmint and Lime can help ease the queasiness and restore calm in the stomach. Blended together in a nasal inhaler or in a rollette and inhaled slowly can keep the unsettled feeling at bay.
Depending on the type of cancer you have and what treatment you are receiving, your digestion can be effected. Peppermint and Ginger are stomach settling oils and can help restore calm. Alternatively a warm compress of Chamomile and Lavender applied to the stomach can have a soothing effect.
The immune system takes an almighty battering during treatment so it’s key to keep your mind and body as strong as possible. Immunity boosting oils such as Tea Tree, Rosemary and Eucalyptus can be used in a vaporisers or a nasal inhaler to help stave off bacteria and keep your immune system working to its full capability. Note: Rosemary is a stimulating oil and should be used sparingly.
Headaches can be due to exhaustion, dehydration or many other factors. A stress headache can be helped with the inhalation of a blend of Lavender and Peppermint. Lavender has an analgesic effect so it will relax the mind, whilst Peppermint clears the fog.
Depression is a difficult symptom to recognise in amongst the many other symptoms you may face during cancer, but once realised it can be helped in very subtle yet effective ways. Sandalwood, Geranium, Chamomile and Rose Moroc are beautiful oils which can all lift your mood delicately. Best used in conjunction with some relaxation time such as a bath or a lie down, they can help slow the pace of your mind and combat feelings of depression.
If respiratory problems develop there are a few oils which can be inhaled to help make breathing easier. Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Niouli and Cajuput are all anti-bacterial oils and will help stave off infection, whilst easing a tight chest.
Lavender is one of the most commonly used oils for its analgesic properties. It can provide a natural form of pain relief, in addition to its soothing and relaxing benefits. Used regularly at night as a sleep aid, or in the bath to help soothe aching and tense muscles – this oil is also great at healing sore, cracked skin.
The Important Stuff
Cancer treatment is tough and invasive on the body. It can change the way your body reacts, and can make you hyper-sensitive to oils and products. First and foremost it is recommend you gain approval from your doctor to ensure they are happy for you to use Aromatherapy alongside your treatment. Even if you have finished your course of treatment, it is recommended that you conduct a 24 hour skin test for the oils you intend to use to check for reaction. It is also advisable that you seek advice/treatment from a professional Aromatherapist who will tailor your oils accurately to your needs. It is very important to tell your practitioner if you feel at all uncomfortable during a treatment, or experience any unwanted side-effects thereafter.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. It is not to be taken as medical or individual advice. Always seek the advice of a professional Aromatherapist before undertaking treatment.