The stigma of spas and cancer

Born of the fear of causing harm, historically therapists have been taught not to provide spa treatments to anyone with cancer

Why we need specialist therapist training when it comes to cancer

Like anyone, every person who has cancer has different needs. That might depend on the type of cancer they have, what stage of treatment they’re at, or what treatment they’re having. Broadly speaking, the primary concerns when it comes to spa facilities and treatments are the risk of infection for anyone undergoing radiation treatment, the potential for bruising if you are having chemotherapy, increased sensitivity to pain, and the possibility that certain products and essential oils are too potent for use during some cancer treatments.

Born of the fear of causing harm, historically therapists have been taught not to provide spa treatments to anyone with cancer. This approach has been compounded because insurance companies wouldn’t cover therapists treating clients with cancer, and there was no coordinated and singularly recognised standard of care and training. However, recognising the need for change, a number of industry innovators have worked to create therapist training and protocols to provide and adapt spa treatments in a way that is now recognised by insurers. So now those options are available, the goal has been getting as many therapists as possible trained the correct standards, as well as empowering consumers with the information to know they are booking the right spa experiences and the right standards of care for them.

Please note, if you are undergoing chemotherapy it is still recommended that you avoid the use of saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs and swimming pools to avoid any risk of infection, and you should always consult your doctor before booking a spa experience or having spa treatments.

When it comes to treatments there has also been a weighty fear-factor, particularly in the realms of massage and aromatherapy. It was widely believed that massage stimulating the lymphatic system might spread cancer around the body. According to Dr Peter Mackereth – the Clinical Lead for Complementary Therapies at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust Manchester, however, this is a theory that doesn’t stand up: “If you walk on the beach or towel dry after a bath it will exert similar pressure on your body as gentle massage. You want the lymphatic system to work! Movement helps people to feel better and feeling good helps the immune system to produce natural killer cells.”

While clients often find themselves being refused spa treatments up to two years after they have finished treatment for cancer however, Mackereth points out that at this stage you are no longer immunocompromised, and complementary therapies can be an important part of recovery and keeping well in the long term: “We talk a lot about resilience – building people’s resources for long term health. Controlling cortisol (stress hormone) levels is important as that can have a big impact on your resilience, and even when people have an ongoing illness evidence suggests that life expectancy can be increased by reducing stress levels, which spas and spa treatments can actively contribute to.”