Aromatherapy uses the natural oils extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots or other parts of a plant to enhance psychological and physical well-being. The inhaled aroma from these ‘essential’ oils is believed to stimulate brain function. The essential oils can, in addition, promote whole-body healing as they are absorbed through the skin, where they travel through the bloodstream. Aromatherapy is gaining momentum as a form of complementary medicine and can be used for a variety of applications, including pain relief, mood enhancement and increased cognitive function.
During your first visit, the therapist will discuss symptoms, your medical history, allergies and any medicines you are taking before giving you a treatment. After a detailed consultation, the therapist will carefully choose a blend of oils with you. These oils will be used in a very dilute form, taking into consideration any symptoms you may have, your treatment, and any side effects caused by it. The aromatherapist may use the oils in several ways, usually therapeutic massage, but they can be used in your bath, for inhalation, in creams and lotions, or in burners/vaporisers.
Aromatherapists can advise you on the safe use of essential oils at home. The essential oils are usually blended with a carrier oil, such as almond or sunflower oil, and used for gentle body massage. The oils are absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin but there is also some uptake as we breathe in. Essential oils may not be appropriate if you find the aroma too strong, as can happen during chemotherapy. In this case a plain carrier oil would be used instead. The number and length of appointments will vary depending on the centre and your individual needs, which you should discuss with the centre co-ordinator.
The therapeutic value of natural plant oils has been recognised for more than 6000 years and used across many cultures, for their healing, cleansing, preservative and mood-enhancing properties, as well as for the pleasure of their fragrances. Massage has been used as a healing therapy for many thousands of years. Ancient cultures, including China, Japan and India, considered massage to be calming, soothing and relaxing, and also very important as a healing therapy. Now, in the 21st century, there are many different kinds of massage therapies available, each of which offers specific benefits to the mind and body.
As essential oils have very powerful effects upon the body they should only be used under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. Oils should never be swallowed, or used undiluted on the skin. You should check with your doctor before having massage and/or aromatherapy as massage may not be suitable for all cancer patients. Generally, massage given to patients with cancer should use only very gentle touch techniques, as gentler types may be safer. People with cancer should avoid very deep massage.
It is also important to choose a qualified massage therapist who has undertaken all the necessary training to understand the theory and practice of massage therapy, is a member of a recognised professional body which represents their therapy and that they have public liability insurance. This is especially important if you are having cancer treatment, are very weak, have bone fractures, have heart problems, suffer from arthritis, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, some oils should not be used on pregnant women. If you are having radiotherapy you should avoid massaging the treated area. And don’t have massage to any area of your body where the skin is broken, bleeding or bruised. You should also avoid general massage therapy to your arms or legs if they are swollen because of lymphoedema. However, there is a particular type of massage used for lymphoedema called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). This is a very specialised treatment and people who need MLD are referred to a lymphoedema specialist by their doctor or specialist nurse. Some people worry that having a massage when you have cancer may make the cancer cells travel to other parts of the body.
No research has proved this to be true. Several reviews of the scientific literature have attributed numerous positive effects to massage, including improvements in the quality of patients’ relaxation, sleep, and immune system responses, and in the relief of their mood disturbance, fatigue, pain, anxiety, anger, depression, stress, and nausea resulting from chemotherapy treatments. Although it is not completely clear from studies how much added benefit the use of aromatherapy oils adds to the massage itself, an experienced aromatherapist should be able to work with you to find the most appropriate oils, depending on your mood and current symptoms. For example, abdominal massage with certain oils may help with constipation.
£40-60. Some clinics are able to offer an initial package of up to eight free or low cost sessions. The average cost for a 1 hour session is between £40-60.