Cochrane doesn’t explain why this review, which was prepared by researchers at the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research and Development Unit in London, was published and then withdrawn.

But just labeling it peaks my interest.

The objective was to investigate whether aromatherapy, massage, or both combined decrease psychological complications, lessen distress, and improve quality of life in patients with cancer.

First, the details.

  • Among 1322 studies found, 10 studies of 357 participants were worthy of review.

And, the results.

  • The most consistent effect of massage or aromatherapy massage was on anxiety.
    • 4 studies reported reduced anxiety, with benefits of 19% to 32%.
  • The effect of aromatherapy/massage on depression was variable, with positive results reported in 1 of 3 studies.
  • 3 studies reported reduced pain.
  • 2 found a reduction in nausea.
  • Changes in other symptoms such as fatigue, anger, hostility, communication, and digestive problems were limited to not more than 1 study.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Massage and aromatherapy massage confer short term benefits on psychological well being, with the effect on anxiety supported by limited evidence. Effects on physical symptoms may also occur.”

It was not clear whether aromatherapy enhanced the effects of massage.

The Aromacaring website says, “Previously it was thought that massage was inappropriate for cancer patients as it would ‘spread’ the cancer.”

Interesting, but potentially more relevant to the decision to withdraw the review is the observation that “The Marie Curie Cancer Care center in London has conducted clinical trials showing statistically significant improvement in cancer patients receiving massage with an essential oil.”

Perhaps it was thought they are too close to the topic to provide an impartial assessment.

10/11/08 09:15 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.