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The Power of Using Aromatherapy to Ease the Side Effects of Cancer Treatments

Written by guest blogger, Jessica Kennedy, MSN-RN, CCAP, CHC, nurse resource specialist, breast nurse navigator and certified clinical aromatherapy practitioner at MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center

"Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul. ~ Luther Burbank

A complementary, holistic approach to cancer care can combine aromatherapy practices and standard cancer treatment. The resource nurse at MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center utilizes that approach to personalize holistic cancer care based on each patient’s unique experience.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants to improve the mind, body and spirit.

An Aromatherapy Session can include meditation, mindfulness, guided imagery, breath work, acupuncture, yoga, exercise, hypnosis and reflexology.

This therapy can be personalized to each patient, focusing on the mind-body-spirit connection. To manage symptoms, aromatherapy is often combined with other treatments like massage therapy and acupuncture, alongside standard medical treatments.

Through aromatherapy, the body can absorb essential oils in several ways:

  • Indirect inhalation: Using a room diffuser helps a patient inhale the scents of the oils through the air.

  • Direct inhalation: An individual personal nasal inhaler is made by floating drops of an essential oil on a cotton wick. This allows the patient to breathe the scent directly.

  • Massage: Essential oils are diluted into a carrier oil and massaged into the skin.

  • Mixtures: Essential oils can also be mixed with bath salts and lotions or applied to bandages or cotton.

Best Aromatherapy and Essential Oils for Cancer Patients

Studies show that essential oils can be helpful in reducing anxiety, depression, pain, stress and hot flashes in patients with cancer.

In 2018, MercyOne nursing staff conducted a randomized experimental study with the use of aromatherapy to combat pain and anxiety. Results showed statistically significant effects on the reduction of the participants anxiety levels.

Complementary treatments such as aromatherapy are widely utilized with inpatient and outpatient care at MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center to help improve quality of life. Although aromatherapy can improve quality of life for patients with cancer, it does not take the place of prescribed medicine or treatment. Supportive care services at MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center tailor care plans to each patient's holistic needs.

Aromatherapy Sessions can include the following scents and benefits:

  • Lavender: helps relax and soothe discomfort from pain.

  • Bergamot: can alleviate a depressed mood, as well as anxiety and stress.

  • Sweet orange: has a potent smell that helps with depression, anxiety and stress. It also soothes an upset stomach when inhaled or diluted with a carrier oil on the stomach.

  • Ginger: helps settle an upset stomach or stuffy nose, and ease pain.

  • Peppermint: is great for settling an upset stomach or stuffed nose and relieving headaches.

The resource nurse specialist collaborates with the health care team to incorporate various educational services and complementary modalities to best suit each patient. An oncology nurse navigator will work with you and your family to help answer questions about the treatment plan and connect you with other services. Our dietitian offers individualized advice for health, nutrition and weight management. Our palliative care team focus on providing relief from symptoms you may be facing and improving the quality of life for you and your family.

Going through cancer can be very emotional. Our patients can learn from and support each other through various support groups offered at MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center. Counseling services and spiritual care services are also available.

[FREE WEBINAR] Cancer Care: Treating Mind, Body and Spirit

Adding complementary therapies can help lessen some side effects of traditional cancer treatment and improve your quality of life. Join  MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center nurse, Jessica Kennedy, BSN, RN, will discuss how aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture, and other therapies can enhance cancer care. She'll also discuss life after cancer, including the social and emotional impacts.


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