A group of London researchers at Marie Curie Cancer Care conducted randomized, controlled, clinical trials to compare the effects of massage alone to massage with essential oils (aromatherapy) on cancer patients in palliative care.
The study randomly assigned 103 patients, to either receive massage using a carrier oil (massage) or massage using a carrier oil plus the Roman chamomile essential oil (aromatherapy massage). Outcome measurements included the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist (RSCL), the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and a semi-structured questionnaire, administered 2 weeks postmassage, to explore patients' perceptions of massage. The study found all massage to be helpful. There was a statistically significant reduction in anxiety after each massage on the STAI (P < 0.001), and improved scores on the RSCL: psychological (P < 0.001), quality of life (P < 0.01), severe physical (P < 0.05), and severe psychological (P < 0.05) subscales for the combined aromatherapy and massage group. The aromatherapy group's scores improved on all RSCL subscales at the 1% level of significance or better, except for severely restricted activities. The massage group's scores improved on four RSCL subscales but these improvements did not reach statistical significance. The study concludes that massage, with or without essential oils, appears to reduce levels of anxiety. The addition of Roman chamomile oil seems to enhance the effect of massage and to improve physical and psychological symptoms, as well as overall quality of life.