Castor oil is taken from the bean of the plant Ricinus communis, which is native to Africa and India. Best known for its laxative effects and its ability to stimulate labor when taken internally, castor oil has also been used topically throughout medical history. In breast cancer, castor oil is used as a carrier for chemotherapy drugs and is applied topically to invigorate lymph drainage, heal tissue damaged by radiation and stimulate the local immune system.
Topical castor oil has been used over time to address pain, swelling and other dermatological issues. Edgar Cayce, a proponent of holistic health, espouses the virtues of castor oil packs throughout the ages. In 2005, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina found that application of castor oil packs to breast tissue damaged by chemotherapy and radiation helped the wounds of a 54-year-old woman heal more quickly than they would have without this treatment.
To create Castor oil packs, you will need Castor oil, cloth, plastic, and an electric heating pad or hot water bottle. For each application, you will need about 16 to 32 ounces of cold- or expeller-pressed Castor oil, which can be found near the laxatives at most pharmacies. In terms of cloth, wool flannel is preferred for its ability to retain a volume of oil and trap heat against the skin to open pores. However, cotton may be substituted if you are allergic to wool. Plastic wrap, a garbage bag or a plastic sheet can help protect clothing and furniture from being stained by the oil.
Fold the flannel cloth into a 3 or 4 layer pad that is the size of the area to be treated. Soak the cloth in castor oil until it is saturated. Place the cloth on a piece of plastic that is larger than the cloth, so it catches any excess oil. Apply the two layers to the skin, with the cloth directly on the skin. Place the heating pad or hot water bottle over the plastic and keep it in place for 20 to 60 minutes.
In the study in which castor oil packs effectively healed damage caused by radiation dermatitis done by the Medical University of South Carolina, the wounds were healed in less than 14 days. Castor oil used topically does not lead to toxic side effects and can be used safely every day.
Claims about castor oil are based on promising case studies; however, more research is needed before it can be recommended as a treatment for breast cancer. Always consult a physician before initiating a new treatment to ensure it will not interact with other medications or treatments.
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- "Journal of Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing"; Management of radiation dermatitis in a patient after mastectomy; McDougall, CJ; Franklin, LE; Gresle, SO; Sep-Oc t 2005; 32(5):337-9; discussion 339-40.
- Edgar Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment, Inc.: Castor Oil, The Oil That Heals
- A.R.E Clinic: Castor Oil Pack Instructions
Keri Layton is a licensed, board-certified doctor of naturopathic medicine. She graduated from Bastyr University in 2006 and then completed a residency in integrated family medicine with a specialty in functional medicine. She works in Providence and Wakefield, R.I., with people of all ages.