Introduction/Background Women with gynecological cancers must often contend cancer- and therapy-related side effects. Such burdens usually do not vanish directly post treatment but accompany those concerned into aftercare – often with a substantial negative impact on daily lives and general well-being. Hence, strategies to independently cope with daily symptomatic burdens and adapt them to specific needs and circumstances, are highly relevant. Aromatherapy, as olfactory and percutaneous applications of essential oils, could be one such strategy. However, empirical research exploring how aromatherapy is experienced is still lacking, especially considering the challenges and potential from the users’ point of view.
Methodology We chose a mixed methods design with focus on qualitative research and an embedded quantitative part. Twenty adult women with gynecological cancers received five essential-oil products that they used individually over a four-week period. After the intervention, qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted and analyzed deductively-inductively via qualitative content analysis. To support the findings, we documented the symptomatic burdens of the women via the questionnaire MYMOP2 and assessed them before and after intervention.
Results Aromatherapy showed potential to relieve symptomatic burdens – especially nausea, polyneuropathy, pain, and sleep. Additionally, new opportunities emerged to indirectly address and affect symptomatic burdens as some participants developed new coping strategies with essential oils (e.g., sleep routines) or combined them with existing strategies (e.g., meditation). Aromatherapy was successfully used to promote well-being and encourage mindfulness.
Conclusion Our findings demonstrate multifaceted potential of aromatherapy as a supportive care treatment. Overall, the wide range of applications customized by the participants according to their needs, resulted in a high level of reported satisfaction. The study framework was conducive to motivate participants to practice self-care. Challenges, such as individual odor aversions and intolerances, and limitations due to medication or illness, should be taken into consideration in future aromatherapy concepts and research.
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