Managing Treatments

Using Essential Oils for Cancer Treatment Management

Oils, such as lavender, may help you fight off infection and cope with side effects without the need for more drugs.

During cancer treatment, it’s common to feel like you need a break from medicine. Using essential oils for cancer side effects, whether from the disease itself or the treatments, may help you feel better without more prescriptions.

Essential oils are the natural fragrances made by plant cells. Using steam or pressure, these essences are released and stored as concentrated oils. If you have cancer, the best uses are to prevent illness and minor infections and manage treatment side effects.

Preventing Illness

Cancer treatment weakens your immune system, making you more prone to infections. Thyme and tea tree oils may help you prevent them. Research presented at the Society for General Microbiology found that thyme oil almost completely eliminated bacteria within 60 minutes. The research also suggested that thyme oil might be an alternative to antibiotics to treat MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant infection you may pick up in the hospital. A report in Clinical Microbiology Reviews confirms that tea tree oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Research in the International Journal of Dermatology also found that tea tree oil speeds up wound healing and may protect against skin cancer.

Using them on your skin is a common avenue, although specific medical guidance is limited. These oils are highly concentrated and should always be diluted by blending them with a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba. It may be best to buy them premixed and ready for application. Talk with your doctor about using tea tree oil or thyme for skin problems like chemo rash. You can create a blend in a small bottle with a roller on top or just use a cotton ball to wipe the diluted oil over the infected area.

To assist with preventing infections, you can apply the diluted oils daily to your skin by blending a couple drops of your chosen oils (thyme or tea tree, possibly mixed with lavender or cinnamon) with a few drops of carrier oil in a small glass bottle. Apply this daily to the bottom of your feet or inside your wrist. You can also put a few drops of thyme oil in a steamy shower to help you manage a cold.

As well, prevent germs at home and in your hospital room by making a disinfecting spray. One quick recipe is 10 drops of tea tree oil, plus 4 ounces of rubbing alcohol (or vodka) or distilled white vinegar and 1½ cups of water. Mix in a spray bottle and use as needed. Spray doorknobs, toilet seats and other areas germs lurk. To make it smell nice, add a few drops of lavender or lemon oil.

Aromatherapy for Side Effects

Aromatherapy uses scents to help handle side effects like nausea and fatigue. Different scents are thought to help with different problems. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, peppermint, spearmint and ginger are thought to help with nausea. Lavender is also commonly used to help with sleep or relaxation, says Prevention.

A study in Anesthesia & Analgesia found that people who received aromatherapy after surgery used less medication for nausea. Ways to use aromatherapy and essential oils for cancer include placing a few drops in a diffuser, mixing a couple drops with Epsom salts in a bath or placing a drop or two in a cup of steaming water and inhaling. You can even mix a couple drops with an unscented lotion and rub on your arms or the back of your neck.

Take care not to apply essential oils directly to your skin or ingest them. Some oils can interact with medications you’re taking, such as blood thinners. Always talk to your doctor before using these oils as treatment, and consider seeking out a certified aromatherapist.

There's more to your cancer treatment than you may know. Check with your doctor about possibilities beyond what you already have going on.

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  • Cindy

    Great article, thank you for posting it! I hope that that UVA Cancer Center will adopt this, I have been a patient in the cancer center for the last year and was told by my doctor not to use any essential oils at all!

  • Ingrid Herald

    I have used essential oils throughout my cancer journey in so many different ways. I had breast cancer with metastasis to lungs. I am now cancer free with Gods healing!!! Lavender for sleep. A mixture of tea tree oil 1 drop, thyme 1 drop, bergamot 1 drop, vodka 1 tsp and water 1 tsp to prevent mouth sores. You swish but don’t swallow. Very strong but I never had mouth sores!!!

Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney