Can Essential Oils Treat Cancer?

There are some wild claims on the Internet about essential oils and about cancer, and those two often go hand in hand. Can they actually help? Can essential oils treat cancer?

Essential Oils And Cancer

First, no one can claim that essential oils will cure cancer. There are no trials, there are no major studies. These botanicals are not tested as a cancer drug, so they cannot be discussed in this way. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t research. 

Studies show their anti-mutagenic, antitumour, antioxidant properties. They also demonstrate that essential oils can cause apoptosis (or cell death) as well as stimulate the detoxification enzymes — the Glutathione S Transferase. These contribute to detoxification and help drain carcinogens and toxins from the liver and kidneys.

The anti-mutagenic mechanism of essential oils works by directly preventing the mutagen from entering the cell. Certain compounds within essential oils inhibit cells from proliferating, or multiplying, and inhibit tumour growth by increasing oxygen radicals inside cells. This mechanism starts oxidation, which reduces reproduction and ultimately leads to cell death.

These are just a few things that essential oils can do and the processes are complex. What is important, however, is that many of the studies have been done only in vitro, which doesn’t always translate to human health.

Essential Oils & Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Some experts say that because of their antioxidant properties, essential oils may actually be protective of cancerous cells. Therefore, they should be avoided for 1 week before and 4 weeks after chemotherapy treatment. 

However, other experts disagree, and there is research that demonstrates that using aromatherapy concurrently with chemotherapy treatment actually improves the quality of life. They reduce side effects of treatment, improve symptoms, and prognosis. Girard-Robert reported that conventional treatments had better efficacy when using essential oils at the same time.

Essential oils reduce pain and nausea, stimulate detoxification. Detoxification helps the liver process drugs. Essential oils reduce anxiety and stress, improve the mood, reduce insomnia. They can assist with warding off infections, wound healing, mouth sores, microbe and bacteria, and virus control. Using aromatherapy in massage leads to short-term symptom relief of pain control, improvement in anxiety and depression and psychological well being, and improved sleep.

In cases of lung cancer, inhaling certain essential oils may be beneficial. Inhalation allows those naturally existing compounds to enter directly into the lungs. This may translates to more effective treatment and essential oil use.


Aromatherapy is not without safety considerations. Here are a few to remember:

  1. Not all essential oils are equal. These kinds of mechanisms do not apply to commercial, synthetic, perfume essential oils. If you’ve bought your products from Amazon, a boutique store, or a company that does not specialize in aromatherapy and has just added it to their product mix to satisfy market trends, it’s highly unlikely it’s good quality. If you absorb and inhale synthetic products, you’re likely to do more harm than good.
  2. Essential oils may be irritating to radiated or diseased skin, especially essential oils high in aldehydes and phenols. For example, cinnamon, clove, thyme, and others. Dilution is necessary.
  3. Certain essential oils may not be suitable for estrogen cancers based on their natural effects. These may include essential oils like fennel, anise, star-anise that contain the e-anethole constituent.
  4. Cancer patients may have impaired detoxification abilities, which may make it difficult to remove essential oils from the system. Liver and kidney patients may be the most at risk for toxicity. However, see above point about detoxification as well.
  5. Aromatherapy is not a replacement for medical attention. Seek proper care. If you’re interested in using aromatherapy to improve quality of life, seek a qualified and trained aromatherapist. Discuss with your physician and pharmacist before commencing.


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