Aromatherapy Treatment for Cancer

Chemotherapy and radiation are common terms for cancer treatment. But now patients at MD Anderson Cancer Center can learn how aromatherapy might be able to help them. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports.

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Hospitals usually have a sterile, antiseptic smell. But walking through MD Anderson's "A Place of Wellness" division, a slight odor hints of a bath and body store. Fragrance of flowers, citrus and herbs draw you to one classroom where Cherie Perez, who is a nurse at the Cancer Center, volunteers her time teaching patients about aromatherapy.

"So tonight, everybody is here for aromatherapy, yes?"

MD Anderson Cancer Center prides itself on cutting edge science and research. But patients now can learn how scented moisturizers, pillows and tissues can help them with those sometimes harsh treatments.

"This definitely falls under more the touchy feely group you know because it is very difficult to assess research wise in a research driven manner, the way that we are at MD Anderson."

Perez hands out bottles so those in the class can get a whiff of essential oils that are believed to enhance sleep, decrease nausea and help with general relaxation.

"This is true lavender, pass that around and I'll start on this end and give you lavidine, that's the cousin"

The patients and loved ones in the small class all have different reactions to the oils. Everybody has their own likes and dislikes. Gale Waddell is from Fort Worth and comes to Houston for treatment for a type of sarcoma. She's looking for relaxation.

"A sense of comfort and well being. I live by myself and there's nobody else around to make the warm, fuzzy odors that I remember from a nice warm household and childhood and all. So by making these up myself using the oils I can create the mood I want to."

Bob Lester suffers from a type of leukemia and is a little skeptical about aromatherapy.

"I think women are more used to smells and different scents, men kind of find it overwhelming, it's not something I gravitate toward, so a little of that goes a long way."

Lester says he'll leave it up to his wife to expose him to a little aromatherapy.Patients are encouraged to inform their doctors about any aromatherapy they are using. Cherie Perez warns some aromatherapy techniques should not be used until cancer treatments are finished. Some oils stimulate lymphatic drainage which may clear the body of debris such as toxins from cancer treatments.

"We use a lot of very expensive drugs for good reasons when we give chemotherapy and we need to let those medications do their job. And we don't want to cleanse the body of those products until they've done their work."

The aromatherapy class is part of MD Anderson's "A Place of Wellness" which deals with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage and music therapy. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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