Researchers in the United Kingdom evaluated a course of aromatherapy massage that is currently available to cancer patients treated by the UK National Health Service. “Effectiveness of aromatherapy massage in the management of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer: a multicenter randomized controlled trial” was a two-group study.
The subjects were 288 cancer patients in four cancer centers and a hospice. They were randomly assigned to a four-week course of weekly hour-long sessions of aromatherapy massage with usual care or usual supportive care alone.

The 12 participating massage therapists agreed to a treatment protocol for the aromatherapy massage that included 20 essential oils, massage strokes, timings and overall massage style. For each individual patient, they utilized the treatment they deemed most appropriate from within the protocol. Patients completed a pre- and post-aromatherapy massage session State Anxiety Inventory and an evaluation using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale.

Two weeks following the final aromatherapy session, 64 percent of the aromatherapy massage group experienced a reduction in anxiety and depression, compared with 46 percent of the usual care group. This benefit was not sustained at six weeks post-treatment.

At six weeks post-treatment, no significant improvement in clinical anxiety or depression was observed in patients who received aromatherapy massage compared with those receiving usual care. Sixty-eight percent of the treatment group experienced less anxiety and depression as compared to 58 percent of the control group.

This study shows that aromatherapy massage can relieve mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression in cancer patients, but the benefits last for only a few weeks afterward.

The authors comment, “This trial of aromatherapy massage in clinical practice has addressed many of the criticisms leveled at research evaluating the effectiveness of complementary therapies.”

Source: St Thomas’ Hospital, London. Authors: Susie M. Wilkinson, Sharon B. Love, Alex M. Westcombe, Maureen A. Gambles, Caroline C. Burgess, Anna Cargill, Teresa Young, E. Jane Maher, Amanda J. Ramirez. Originally published in Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 25, No. 5 (Feb. 10), 2007: pp. 532–539.