The efficacy of aromatherapy with essential oils (EOs) in the management of symptom burden in patients with cancer who were receiving intravenous infusion-based treatments was evaluated by researchers at The Ohio State University in Columbus. The study results were reported in the journal Oncology Nursing Forum.

The randomized, controlled, single-blind study included patients with gastrointestinal, neuroendocrine, or skin cancers who had received 1 or more treatments with intravenous anticancer therapy. Patients were randomly assigned to aromatherapy with an EO or an odorless oil (control group). Therapy was administered using a personal inhalation bottle that contained 7 drops of oil on a cotton ball. Participants were to inhale the aroma from the bottle assigned to them 3 times per day for 7 days. In the EO group, patients were given ginger oil, chamomile oil, or bergamot oil, while the control group was given almond oil.

Participants also provided daily symptom self-assessments and related information in a journal. The day of assignment was day 0, and documentation from that day served as baseline data. Participants completed documentation through the 7 days following day 0; then completed evaluations regarding use of EOs and the personal inhalation bottle.

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The primary objective was to assess the effects of EO use on symptoms related to appetite, anxiety, fatigue, and nausea in patients receiving intravenous chemotherapy or biologic agents for their cancer. Symptom severity was reported using a Likert scale, with 0 representing no symptoms and 10 representing the worst symptoms ever.

A total of 147 patients were included in the analysis. In the EO group, 40 patients received ginger oil, 32 patients received chamomile oil, and 38 patients received bergamot oil. In the control group, 37 patients received almond oil. Gastrointestinal cancer was the most commonly represented cancer type in this study, and most patients were male.

Overall, many patients reported symptom severity as 0 for multiple symptoms at baseline. In many analyses, significant associations between EO and symptoms were not seen. However, significant decreases in anxiety (P =.04) and fatigue (P =.048) were reported by patients receiving ginger oil, compared with patients receiving almond oil (control group).

“Inhaled ginger EO had a significant effect on fatigue and anxiety in patients with gastrointestinal and skin cancers,” the researchers concluded. They also noted that patients in the study had a low symptom burden, which may reflect efficacy with standard-of-care symptom management approaches. “This is encouraging for oncology nurses to note when providing patient education.”


Williams AS, Dove J, Krock JE, et al. Efficacy of inhaled essential oil use on selected symptoms affecting quality of life in patients with cancer receiving infusion therapies. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2022;49(4):349-358. doi:10.1188/22.ONF.349-358

This article originally appeared on Oncology Nurse Advisor