The use of complementary alternative therapies in combination with traditional care for the management of cancer patients and other diseases is becoming better recognized among health care providers the world over. There is debate over the efficacy of alternative treatments in general however, due to a lack of quantitative studies related to health benefits. According to proponents, aromatherapy may provide relief to cancer patients from several perspectives. Aromatherapy may provide stress relief, palliative, and anxiety/depression reducing. The claims made for use of aromatherapy are generally backed by patient testimonials related to their perceived well being after treatment. These ideas are explored in greater detail below:
Aromatherapy may be defined as utilization of distilled essential oils from plants for health purposes. Generally aromatherapy oils are used as a means to improve the mood and health of patients in a clinical setting. For cancer patients, essential oils have been used in combination with massage therapy to help manage pain, depression, anxiety and stress (ACA, 2000).
Aromatherapy oils can be applied via massage or inhalation. At this time there are early clinical trials that point to the efficacy of aromatherapy as a treatment for reducing stress, pain and depression in cancer patients. There is no scientific evidence at this time that suggests that aromatherapy will prevent or treat cancer in patients; rather it may be used as a mechanism for improving the quality of life for patients (ACA, 2000). Thus evidence suggests that aromatherapy may prove beneficial as a conjunct therapy.
Naturopathic physicians promote aromatherapy as a natural way that cancer patients can help combat stress and produce a feeling of well being (Buckle, 1999). Most of the evidence provided supporting this claim stems from randomized clinical trials. The clinical research related to aromatherapy however is generally in its beginning stages only. Clinical trials have been conducted related to a number of health conditions, including hair loss and tobacco cravings and depressions (ACA, 2000). At this time the number of studies related to cancer patients is relatively few.
A survey in Nursing Times revealed that aromatherapy massage is in high demand among patients and is in general a popular form of complementary therapy for patients with severe illnesses including cancer among the nursing profession (Trevelyan, 1996). Preliminary research suggests that when aromatherapy essential oils are used in combination with remedial massage, demonstrable therapeutic benefits including decreased anxiety in hospital patients is realized (Groer, et. al, 1994). The evidence collected in these instances is primarily subjective in nature, based on patient observations of their perceived well being or improvement. Other benefits cited among patients using aromatherapy include a reduction in chronic tension headaches (Puustjarvi, et. al, 1990) and cancer pain (Ferrel-Tory and Glick, 1993).
There is also some evidence to suggest that stress is reduced in patients undergoing treatments for critical illnesses (Dunn, Sleep & Collette, 1995). Most recently the Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine at Countess Moutbatten House conducted an audit examining the effects of aromatherapy massage on cancer patients. The aim of the study was to examine the palliative benefits of aromatherapy treatment (B.Evans, 1995). Among the most frequently utilized essential oils included lavender, marjoram and chamomile. In this study sixty nine patients participated, with none of the patients having previously experienced hands on massage (IHL, 1999). More than 80% of participants reported feeling better, more relaxed and less stressed after treatment, with several claiming that the results lasted for more than one day (IHL, 1999; B.Evans, 1995.)
Secondary evidence also supports the idea that a majority of cancer patients utilize some form of complementary medicine when seeking treatment (Jacobson et. al, 1999). Jacobson, Workman and Kronenburg (1999) note that though the research that currently exists suggests encouraging results for aromatherapy, there are at this time too many phase I and II trials only that limit the ability of scientists to form true definitive conclusions related to the efficacy of alternative cancer treatments.
Cooksley (n.d.) points out the importance of holistic practitioners to safeguard a 'unified intention' related to treatment protocol. Holistic aromatherapy support from an alternative physician's perspective is part of a multidimensional approach to healthcare. Aromatherapy has been cited by proponents as beneficial related to improved immune response and regulation of the psycho-emotional state (Cooksley, n.d.).
Biomedical examination of the efficacy of aromatherapy treatment will necessitate more complex testing results in addition to observations related to a patients perceived sense of health and well being. While proponents of aromatherapy as a treatment option are more likely to support the notion that a patient's perception of their wellness is as critical to their outcome as biophysical evidence, traditional therapists and physicians are more likely to require physical evidence of an improved outcome. As mentioned previous, a majority of the studies conducted thus far relate successful outcome in terms of a patients perception of their overall well being and reduced stress/pain/anxiety.
The problems the biomedical community has with a majority of the promising aromatherapy evidence then, is the fact that a majority of the information is anecdotal rather than detailed. There is no evidence at this time that firmly supports the notion that positive scents might enhance well being, but there is anecdotal reports. Statistical analyses and explicit methodology or details would be required to create a stronger case for the utilization of aromatherapy in a clinical setting as standard practice.
Some studies do provide some hope however for the scientific community. Chamomile for example has been noted for improving mood and lavender has been noted as improving insomnia to some extent (Roberts & Williams, 1992). Physiological arousal can be measured via utilization of electroencephalogram or EEG readings (Klemm et. al, 1992). Peppermint odor for example, has been noted for causing small EEG and electromyogram or EMG changes, as well as heart rate changes in sleeping patients (Badia et. al, 1990). In addition lavender was shown to reduce alpha wave activity in the brain (Wartik, 1995) a sign of a more relaxed state.
One may conclude therefore that studies utilizing measurement of beta wave brain activity, alpha wave activity, EEG, EMG and heart rate changes are more likely to be widely accepted among the medical community. Traditional practitioners are more likely to acknowledge the efficacy and safety of alternative treatments if they are examined from a more 'scientific' manner, such as via measurement of EEG, EMG and heart rate activities. Studies involving alpha and beta wave activity are more complex in nature and will require more advanced protocols.
Aromatherapy may be further explored to ascertain it's relation to pain response and pain management. There is some preliminary research that suggests that certain essential oils such as lavender may result in a reduction of pain, however these examinations are limited in scope and therefore not applicable to the cancer community at large.
This evidence is abundant related to randomized trials for holistic practioners to speculate that utilization of aromatherapy as a complementary therapy is safe and effective. Traditional physicians however will require longer term observation to measure the efficacy and safety of aromatherapy treatments. The majority of trials conducted until this point in time suggest short-term results/ramifications. The long-term ramifications of the use of aromatherapy substances have yet to be examined. No mal-effects have at this point been noted among patients using essential oils. There is some related evidence that might suggest that certain strong odors could be potentially damaging, but most essential oils are used in a diluted form, which may prevent any deleterious consequences.
There is substantive evidence suggesting that the use of aromatherapy may aid cancer patients, at minimum on a short-term basis. Randomized studies have revealed some evidence suggesting that pain, stress, depression and anxiety may all be reduced when aromatherapy is used in combination with traditional medical practices. These studies however, have note generally been empirically-based nor long-term in nature, suggesting the need for further research in this area.
A majority of the studies conducted thus far have not also been dedicated solely to research related to the outcome in patients deteriorating from cancer. Many of the studies related to anti-anxiety, stress reduction and anti-depressive benefits are related to patients with several different types of illness or disease. Thus the future of research must focus specifically on improved outcomes related to individual patients, to further boost the substance of claims in favor of aromatherapy use.
Aromatherapy has been suggested as a beneficial complementary alternative medicine treatment for cancer patients. Though it will not prevent or cure cancer, it's use has been cited related to pain, anxiety and stress management.
The aim of the study suggested below will be to investigate whether aromatherapy is beneficial in reducing pain and anxiety specifically in patients suffering from cancer. Specifically an examination of patients with breast cancer will be examined. This study will be aimed at the biomedical community.
As mentioned previous, the biomedical community is more interested in physiological changes and implications of any studies conducted. As such, it will be critical…