Anxiolytic Effect of Aromatherapy Massage in Patients with Breast Cancer

Jiro Imanishi; Hiroko Kuriyama; Ichiro Shigemori; Satoko Watanabe; Yuka Aihara; Masakazu Kita; Kiyoshi Sawai; Hiroo Nakajima; Noriko Yoshida; Masahiro Kunisawa; Masanori Kawase; Kenji Fukui


Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009;6(1):123-128. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


We examined how aromatherapy massage influenced psychologic and immunologic parameters in 12 breast cancer patients in an open semi-comparative trial. We compared the results 1 month before aromatherapy massage as a waiting control period with those during aromatherapy massage treatment and 1 month after the completion of aromatherapy sessions. The patients received a 30 min aromatherapy massage twice a week for 4 weeks (eight times in total). The results showed that anxiety was reduced in one 30 min aromatherapy massage in State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) test and also reduced in eight sequential aromatherapy massage sessions in the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) test. Our results further suggested that aromatherapy massage ameliorated the immunologic state. Further investigations are required to confirm the anxiolytic effect of aromatherapy in breast cancer patients.


Aromatherapy is one of the complementary and alternative medicines used to treat various diseases and symptoms, because essential oils have many kinds of pharmacologic actions including anti-microbial, sedative, analgesic, spasmolytic and estrogen or steroid hormone-like effects, etc. Since various kinds of essential oils such as true lavender, rose, mandarin, sweet orange, sandalwood, geranium, etc have anxiolytic activity, aromatherapy has been used for the relief of depression and anxiety. We have clarified that aromatherapy massage reduced anxiety and depression in healthy subjects and that it increased CD8-positive and CD16-positive lymphocytes in peripheral blood.[1] Furthermore, we found that aromatherapy massage improved mild depression.[2] Patients with cancer tend to be very anxious about the recurrence of cancer, even after complete remission. This anxiety in turn might reduce immunologic activity, resulting in an increase in the probability of recurrence.

Several studies have centered on this anxiety in cancer patients. Fellowes et al.[3] concluded in a systematic review that aromatherapy massage conferred short-term benefits on psychologic well being, with the effect on anxiety supported by limited evidence and that effect on physical symptoms might also occur. Corner et al.[4] evaluated the use of massage and essential oils on the well being of cancer patients. The results showed that anxiety scores reduced significantly over time only for the essential oil massage group. Concerning effectiveness for pain, mobility, ability to work and communication with family, the essential oil group performed better than the control group. Wilkinson et al.[5] also evaluated aromatherapy massage in palliative care in a randomized control study involving full body aromatherapy massage or carrier oil massage three times a week. For the aroma group, significant improvements were found for physical, psychologic, quality of life and severe physical and psychologic subscales of the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist (RSCL), pre- to post-test. For the massage group, there were no differences in any RSCL subscales, from the pre- to post-test. For the whole group and each group, significant improvements in the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI)-state were noted pre- to post-test for each massage. Kohara et al.[6] also reported that combined modality treatment consisting of aromatherapy, soaking the feet and reflexology appears to be effective for alleviating fatigue in terminally ill cancer patients.

Few studies have examined the psychologic and immunologic effects of aromatherapy on breast cancer patients. Since immunologic activity is a critical factor in determining a patient's prognosis, it is very important to examine the effect of aromatherapy on immunologic activity. Therefore, in the present study, we examined the psychologic and immunologic parameters of aromatherapy massage for breast cancer patients.


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