Aromatherapy is the ancient practice of using essential oils for healing. Essential oils are made with the extracts of specific plants that are thought to have medicinal value. For patients living with mesothelioma, aromatherapy is not a treatment for the cancer, but it is a useful complementary type of therapy that can be used to provide relief from stress, anxiety, depression, and even pain caused by the cancer.
Using essential oils is low risk as long as it is done with the guidance of an experience and trained practitioner. These professionals understand which oils will help, how much to use, and how to use them. They may use the oils along with massage to help patients or they may instruct patients to use the oils in various ways to get the aroma without necessarily applying the oil directly to the skin.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is an alternative medical practice that uses essential oils to help people relax and get relief from certain symptoms. Patients using aromatherapy may only smell the essential oils, or may receive massage therapy with the essential oils. In rare cases a patient may consume a small amount of an essential oil, but this should never be attempted without direction from a qualified and experienced practitioner. Taking any oil by mouth can be potentially dangerous if you do not know what the side effects may be or how much is appropriate to take.
Essential oils are oils with the extract of a plant. The extracts may be made from the flowers, roots, leaves, or seeds of a plant. An essential oil may contain the extract of just one plant, or may include a mixture. Plants are chosen to make essential oils and then those oils are chosen by a practitioner based on their qualities and the effects they are expected to have on a patient. To get the aroma from an aromatherapy essential oil a patient may be instructed to add it to bath water, to use it in a cold or warm compress applied to the skin, or to use it in a diffuser that adds the scent to the air in the room.
The History of Aromatherapy
Essential oils have been made and used for thousands of years in many different civilizations. The power of scent and aroma has been recognized for a long time as having therapeutic benefits. These oils were used in ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, India, and China, for cosmetic and hygienic purposes, but also in medications and herbal therapies. The oils were also used in spiritual rituals and for various kinds of medical treatments.
Aromatherapy continued to be used all over the world, up to modern times. Modern studies of how essential oils could heal began in the 1920s with the research of a French chemist named Gattefosse, now known as the founder of modern aromatherapy. He investigated how essential oils, like lavender oil, could be used to treat skin conditions like infections, gangrene, and burns.
Benefits for Cancer Patients
Aromatherapy is a complementary and alternative practice that can be used by mesothelioma and other cancer patients to complement traditional treatment. It is not a replacement or substitute for cancer treatment and cannot actually treat the cancer, but aromatherapy can help patients experience certain benefits, like relief from symptoms and side effects.
Research into how effective aromatherapy is for helping cancer patients is limited, but there is some evidence that it can help. Aromatherapy may help patients find relief from stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression, and pain. The scents from specific oils can produce these effects, but massage therapy may also play a role. When aromatherapy is administered by massaging the essential oils into the skin, patients get the benefits of massage—pain relief, relaxation, and reduced fatigue—as well as all the benefits of inhaling specific scents.
Research is more limited in determining how effective aromatherapy is at treating other symptoms, like nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, improving circulation, improving digestion, or boosting the immune system. Some patients say they do experience these benefits from aromatherapy treatment, but more studies are needed to provide hard evidence.
Essential Oils for Mesothelioma Patients
One reason to use aromatherapy for patients with mesothelioma is to find relief from pain. Chamomile essential oil may be helpful at relieving pain when used topically with massage. Essential oils that may help reduce anxiety and stress include chamomile, lavender, rose, bergamot, and ylang ylang. Many of these can also help patients find relief from depression, along with clary sage, basil, sandalwood, geranium, and jasmine oils. For nausea, ginger, lemon, or mint essential oils may help. Essential oils that may help reduce fatigue and energize are peppermint, geranium, eucalyptus, rosemary, and basil.
When aromatherapy is conducted in the correct way by a trained professional it is considered very safe. Essential oils are safe to use as directed, but may cause harm if ingested without guidance. Some people may experience allergic reactions to certain essential oils based on the plants that were used to make them. Certain essential oils may affect a patient negatively by causing headaches or nausea. Essential oils may cause irritation or toxic effects if used on skin that is broken, has open wounds or is damaged in some way.
Working with an Aromatherapy Practitioner
If you are living with mesothelioma and suffering from symptoms and side effects, aromatherapy could be one strategy that brings relief and helps you enjoy a better quality of life. There are few risks associated with aromatherapy, so even if you find it does not help you, there is no harm in trying. It is important, though, to work with a trained professional. Some oils could have toxic effects if used inappropriately. It is also important to keep your medical team informed about any alternatives you are trying to find relief.
Aromatherapy is an ancient healing practice and it is one that more and more people are embracing as a complement to traditional western medicine. For patients living with the discomfort and pain of mesothelioma, trying something new can mean improved overall well-being. Aromatherapy with the right practitioner can provide stress relief, relaxation, pain relief, and even more benefits.