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Aromatherapy and Essential Oils (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Summary of the Evidence for Aromatherapy and Essential Oils

Use of Aromatherapy as a Supportive Care Agent in Cancer and Palliative Care: Table of Clinical Studies

Reference CitationsType of Study/Essential Oil/Mode ofAdministrationNo. of Patients Enrolled; Treated; ControlConditionInvestigatedPrimary OutcomeSecondary OutcomeLevel of Evidence Score
No. = number; QOL = quality of life.
a Patients with cancer.
b Patients withbreast cancerundergoingbone marrow transplantation.
c Patients withmalignant brain tumors.
d Lavender (43%), rosewood (29%), rose (7%), andvalerian(4%).
[1]Randomized nonblindedtriala /lavender(Lavandula angustifoliaMiller [synonyms:Lavandula spicataL.;Lavandula veraDC.]) andchamomile blend/massage46; 11; 18Mood, QOL, physicalsymptomsNo effect on mood, QOL, or physical symptomsNone1ii
[2]Randomized nonblinded triala /lavender/ massage42; 29; 13PainNo effect on painImproved sleep in both groups; reduceddepression(in massage group); no effect on QOL1ii
[3]Randomized nonblinded triala /chamomile/massage103; 43; 44Physical andpsychologicalsymptoms, QOLReduction inanxietyand in physical and psychological symptoms; improved QOLNone1ii
[4]Randomized nonblinded triala /chamomile/massage52; 26; 25QOL, physical symptoms, anxietyImproved QOL, fewer physical symptoms, reduced anxietyNone1ii
[5]Randomized nonblinded triala /aromatherapy blendd /massage52; 34; 18Anxiety, mobilityDecreased anxiety, pain; improved mobilityNone1ii
[6]Double-blindrandomized control triala /lavender,bergamot (Citrus aurantiumL. ssp.bergamia [Risso] Wright & Arn. [Rutaceae]; [synonym:Citrus bergamia Risso]), andcedarwood(Cedrus atlantica [Endl.] Manetti ex Carriere [Pinaceae])/indirect application313AnxietyNo effect on anxietyNo effect on depression orfatigue1i
[7]Randomizedplacebo-controlleddouble-blind trial/bergamot/inhalation37; 17; 20Anxiety,nausea, pain in children undergoingstem cell transplantIncreased anxiety and nausea in children 1 hour after stem cell infusion in aromatherapy group; no effect on painParental anxiety declined in both groups1iC
[8]Randomized controlled single-blind trial/sweet orange/inhalation60; 23; 19; 18 (aromatherapy; orange tasting/sniffing; control)Symptom intensity (nausea,retching, cough)Greatest reduction in symptom intensity with orange tasting/sniffingNone1C
[9]Randomized single-blind trial/choice of 20 essential oils/massage39; 20; 19Feasibility; moodImprovements in mood in both groups (aromatherapy massage and cognitive behavioral therapy)Preference for aromatherapy overcognitive behavior therapy1C
[10]Randomized single-blind trial/choice of bitter orange, black pepper, rosemary, majoram, andpatchouli /massage45; 15; 15; 15 (aromatherapy massage; plain massage; control)Constipation; QOLImprovement with aromatherapy massageImproved QOL1C
[11]Nonrandomizedcontrolled clinical trial b /lavender,eucalyptus(Eucalyptus globulus Labill. andEucalyptus radiata Sieber ex DC. [Myrtaceae]), andtea tree /topical application16; 6; 10InfectionNo effect onincidenceof infectionNone2
[12]Nonrandomized controlledclinical trial b /geranium(Pelargoniumspecies),German chamomile (Matricaria recutitaL. [synonyms:Matricaria chamomillaL.,Chamomilla recutita(L.) Rausch.]),patchouli(Pogostemon cablin[Blanco] Benth. [Lamiaceae] [synonyms:Mentha cablinBlanco,Pogostemon patchoulyLetettier]), andturmeric phytol /oral application48; 24; 24GastrointestinalsymptomsNo effect on gastrointestinal symptomsNone2
[13]Consecutive case series c /lavender or chamomile/massage18; 8Anxiety, depressionNoreductionin anxiety or depressionReduction inblood pressure, pulse, and respiration3ii
[14]Consecutive casea /various oils/massage69General symptomsGeneral improvement in symptoms reported by patients; no statistical analysis completedNone3ii


  1. Wilcock A, Manderson C, Weller R, et al.: Does aromatherapy massage benefit patients with cancer attending a specialist palliative care day centre? Palliat Med 18 (4): 287-90, 2004.
  2. Soden K, Vincent K, Craske S, et al.: A randomized controlled trial of aromatherapy massage in a hospice setting. Palliat Med 18 (2): 87-92, 2004.
  3. Wilkinson S, Aldridge J, Salmon I, et al.: An evaluation of aromatherapy massage in palliative care. Palliat Med 13 (5): 409-17, 1999.
  4. Wilkinson S: Aromatherapy and massage in palliative care. Int J Palliat Nurs 1 (1): 21-30, 1995.
  5. Corner J, Cawler N, Hildebrand S: An evaluation of the use of massage and essential oils on the wellbeing of cancer patients. Int J Palliat Nurs 1 (2): 67-73, 1995.
  6. Graham PH, Browne L, Cox H, et al.: Inhalation aromatherapy during radiotherapy: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind randomized trial. J Clin Oncol 21 (12): 2372-6, 2003.
  7. Ndao DH, Ladas EJ, Cheng B, et al.: Inhalation aromatherapy in children and adolescents undergoing stem cell infusion: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind trial. Psychooncology 21 (3): 247-54, 2012.
  8. Potter P, Eisenberg S, Cain KC, et al.: Orange interventions for symptoms associated with dimethyl sulfoxide during stem cell reinfusions: a feasibility study. Cancer Nurs 34 (5): 361-8, 2011 Sep-Oct.
  9. Serfaty M, Wilkinson S, Freeman C, et al.: The ToT study: helping with Touch or Talk (ToT): a pilot randomised controlled trial to examine the clinical effectiveness of aromatherapy massage versus cognitive behaviour therapy for emotional distress in patients in cancer/palliative care. Psychooncology 21 (5): 563-9, 2012.
  10. Lai TK, Cheung MC, Lo CK, et al.: Effectiveness of aroma massage on advanced cancer patients with constipation: a pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract 17 (1): 37-43, 2011.
  11. Gravett P: Aromatherapy treatment for patients with Hickman line infection following high-dose chemotherapy. International Journal of Aromatherapy 11 (1): 18-9, 2001.
  12. Gravett P: Treatment of gastrointestinal upset following high-dose chemotherapy. International Journal of Aromatherapy 11 (2): 84-6, 2001.
  13. Hadfield N: The role of aromatherapy massage in reducing anxiety in patients with malignant brain tumours. Int J Palliat Nurs 7 (6): 279-85, 2001.
  14. Evans B: An audit into the effects of aromatherapy massage and the cancer patient in palliative and terminal care. Complement Ther Med 3 (4): 239-41, 1995.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
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