Why You Shouldn't be Self-medicating with Essential Oils if You Have Cancer

Mar 1, 07:03 PM

By Katharine Koeppen, RA

There's no doubt about it, cancer is a terrifying and life-changing diagnosis. Along with conventional allopathic treatments, there are many adjunct holistic treatments that can help support an individual during their cancer journey. I fully support individuals who wish to explore these adjunct therapies, but as an aromatherapist with considerable experience in aromatics for oncology, I am very concerned about the current trend for aromatherapy newbies to self-medicate.

Last week, I received this e-mail, which is typical of many inquiries I receive on the subject:

My husband has cancer [no details specified]. I've been doing a lot of extensive research on aromatherapy, and I've got him taking essential oils [presumably by ingestion]. Right now he's taking [MLM company proprietary blend] and his doctor doesn't think he should take it during chemo. Please advise if this is safe.

This e-mail sets off so many alarm bells. First of all, had this woman actually been doing "extensive research" via reputable channels, her husband would never be using the product in question, which is sold by a huge sea of untrained distributors claiming all sorts of imaginary cancer benefits and cures. 

Although perfectly well-intentioned, the woman is not a qualified, practicing professional aromatherapist, so she didn't have a clue what she might be doing to her husband by giving him the product. In this particular case, the blend was composed of very aggressive essential oils that were potentially harmful to his liver and kidneys, and had strong potential to disrupt the effects of his chemo regimen. Not only that, but the load this proprietary blend puts on the liver can make a chemo patient feel even sicker... and not just on treatment days. In this instance, the offer of a professional consultation was declined, so I couldn't advise her on safe and effective ways to help her husband better tolerate his drug treatments.

On the same day, I was also approached by another individual who has had her fourth recurrence of metastatic breast cancer. Throughout her 15 years of cancer treatment, she has been self-medicating with undiluted essential oils for many different purposes. She showed me the list of blends and single note essential oils her new "aromatherapy consultant" had recommended and sold to her. Every single one of them was contraindicated for her type of cancer, and either had the potential to promote tumor growth or disrupt the hormone levels her physician has been so carefully trying to control. She doesn't want a consultation, and refuses to believe her use of undiluted oils is without consequence, although she has started to show signs of sensitization.

On multiple occasions, I have been asked to supply persons (including other aromatherapists) with "a typical blend for cancer support." While this request is always sincere, it is also misguided and indicates of a lack of understanding regarding both cancer and allopathic cancer treatments. There is no "typical blend," because neither cancer nor cancer treatments are one-size-fits-all situations. A good aromatherapist makes recommendations based on the individual and takes a holistic approach with each client. For that matter, so does a good oncologist.

Cancer treatment is serious business. Essential oils are also serious business, especially when you are using them on people who have complex diseases and heavily compromised immune systems. If you don't understand the etiology of cancer, don't have a grasp of common allopathic treatments and don't know the first thing about essential oils, using aromatherapy can indeed be life-changing... in a deletrious way. Cancer is an emotionally charged disease, but please, be sensible and safe in your complementary healthcare choices. Consult with a practicing clinician who has actually received reputable training specific to using essential oils for cancer support. Someone who knows how to help, not harm.


Commenting is closed for this article.