Research suggests that patients with cancer, particularly in the palliative care setting, are increasingly using aromatherapy and massage. There is good evidence that these therapies may be helpful for anxiety reduction for short periods, but few studies have looked at the longer term effects. This study was designed to compare the effects of four-week courses of aromatherapy massage and massage alone on physical and psychological symptoms in patients with advanced cancer. Forty-two patients were randomly allocated to receive weekly massages with lavender essential oil and an inert carrier oil (aromatherapy group), an inert carrier oil only (massage group) or no intervention. Outcome measures included a Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) of pain intensity, the Verran and Snyder-Halpern (VSH) sleep scale, the Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scale and the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist (RSCL). We were unable to demonstrate any significant long-term benefits of aromatherapy or massage in terms of improving pain control, anxiety or quality of life. However, sleep scores improved significantly in both the massage and the combined massage (aromatherapy and massage) groups. There were also statistically significant reductions in depression scores in the massage group. In this study of patients with advanced cancer, the addition of lavender essential oil did not appear to increase the beneficial effects of massage. Our results do suggest, however, that patients with high levels of psychological distress respond best to these therapies.