The article Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable Cancers came across my newsfeed this morning. To sum it up, the aforementioned study found that patients who received complementary (alternative) medicine were more likely to refuse other conventional cancer treatment. For this reason, they had a 2-fold greater death risk than those not receiving complementary medicine. Which, as a person in the alternative medicine field, I find very concerning.
Complementary alternative medicine and practices are just that, complementary. They should happen in tandem with tradition medical approaches and not replace them fully -- this is especially pertinent when it comes to cancer care. These practices can include aromatherapy, homeopathy, herbalism, vitamins, yoga, diets, meditation, massage, etc. It should be noted that with cancer, there can be interactions between herbal and aromatic preparations with chemotherapy, surgeries, and the medications that a patient may be taking. It is always recommended to clear any alternative therapies with the oncology team first to avoid any complications.
I see so many people posting on aromatherapy Facebook groups things like "my friend has cancer, I want to make her something, what should I make her?" This is very concerning for a number of reasons. There is the misconception that since plants are natural most of them are safe. While most are, there are definite safety considerations to take into account even for completely healthy people. This is especially true when using essential oils since they are so potent. Also, taking advice on the Internet from well meaning friends and acquaintances who are not professionally trained in safety especially as it pertains to herbs and essential oils can be downright dangerous. For instance, peppermint, ginger, and spearmint are great for nausea, but it might be better to use an aromatic inhaler or diffuser than to apply them topically or to use them internally. Special care also may need to be taken when considering a dosage as you may only need a few drops of essential oils in an inhaler.
Complementary alternative medicine can be used to improve the physical and emotional state of someone dealing with cancer, but again, it should not replace conventional cancer treatment and always should be done first by consulting the oncology team. It can be effective in treating things like nausea, pain, depression, and anxiety associated with cancer and cancer treatments. Using them for palliative and end of life care is a different story as the treatment(s) are used to provide comfort to the terminal patient as usually conventional cancer treatments are no longer in use by that point outside of pain management and other palliative care measures. The fact that cancer patient that who alternative medicine are more likely to refuse conventional treatment puts the onus on those of us in the field to be clear about the limitations of alternative medicine.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.