The ultimate guide to cancer-safe spa treatments

BY Lorela Movileanu

28th Jun 2023 Wellbeing

The ultimate guide to cancer-safe spa treatments

There are a lot of misconceptions about the safety of spa treatments for cancer treatments, but there are actually plenty of options for patients who want to enjoy a spa day 

Living with cancer not only impacts our physical health, but it can also take a toll on our mental health.

We know that spa experiences are proven to boost our mental and physical wellbeing, but having cancer can complicate this. You may have heard that spas aren’t safe for cancer patients.

"If you are craving the relaxing and rejuvenating effects of a spa day, cancer does not have to stop you"

But this is now an outdated myth. So, if you are craving the relaxing and rejuvenating effects of a spa day, living with cancer does not have to stop you – you just need to know what you can and cannot do on your spa day.

Armathwaite Hall, a luxury hotel and spa in the Lake District that offers cancer-safe treatments, shares its expert guidance on making the most of a spa day when you are living with cancer.

Why does having cancer affect what I can do at the spa?

In the past—and sadly, still to this day—many spas have refused treatments to cancer patients because of a now-conclusively disproven myth that treatments including massage can spread cancer cells around the body. And while this is proven to be false, many spa therapists are nervous about offering massages to patients with tumours for fear of causing pain or disturbance.

Woman receiving massage - guide to cancer-safe spa treatments

The treatments you may be undergoing to fight cancer can also affect your spa experience. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can both make your skin, hair and nails weaker, meaning it is wise to avoid certain treatments and types of products.

The jury is out on steam treatments and hot tubs for cancer patients. Because of increased sensitivity in the skin, some experts recommend avoiding steam rooms and hot tubs because they can aggravate your dermis. Others can find these environments soothing and relaxing. It is important to note that, while there is talk of sauna therapy treating cancer, there is no evidence of this working.

Cancer-safe massages—the dos and don’ts

Massages offer many mental and physical benefits, and cancer patients deserve to reap the rewards of a relaxing massage. If you have a type of cancer that has formed a solid tumour, it is recommended that when receiving a massage, you tell your therapist where it is so they can avoid it. We recommend against deep tissue massages if you are experiencing or recovering from cancer.

"Cancer patients deserve to reap the rewards of a relaxing massage"

Massages that use ancient Chinese tuina movements offer an alternative to the constant kneading and pressing associated with general massages. It translates to “pinch and pull” and focuses on rebalancing your energy. Masseurs will use a part of their body—generally a foot, knee, finger, hand or elbow—to put force on various hotspots on your body. The notion behind tuina is that it releases tension to unlock your channels of qi (positive energy) and allow it to flow freely through your body.

A 2016 study found that tuina can improve quality of life for cancer patients and, when combined with acupuncture, can do so for those with terminal cancer too.

What if I don’t want to risk a massage?

If you are worried about the potential effects of a massage, there are other treatments you can benefit from that have been designed specifically for people living with, receiving treatment for or in recovery from cancer.

Touch therapy has been hailed as a wonderful option for cancer patients. Not only does it have pain-relieving benefits, but it can also reduce anxiety. This makes it a great option for patients whose skin is too sensitive for massages or facials.

Women receiving a spa treatment - guide to cancer-safe spa treatment

Lorela Movileanu, Spa Manager at the Armathwaite Hall spa, says of touch therapy: “Designing these treatments with cancer patients in mind is essential. It is really important to us that we can offer those living with cancer a safe and inclusive space to relax.

“Made for Life treatments are some of the most well-known cancer touch therapy treatments and were designed with oncologists to ensure maximum safety and benefits to cancer patients. We recommend that you seek out therapists who are trained in treating cancer patients to deliver these treatments.”

Facials for cancer patients: the lowdown

If you are receiving treatment for cancer, you may not be able to take part in some of your regular beauty treatments. That can have an impact on your mental health; but finding ways to incorporate your favourite or new beauty therapies into your life can definitely boost it.

Cancer treatments can leave your skin sensitive, red and flaky—and this means a gentle facial that incorporates deeply moisturising ingredients can be beneficial. Lorela says: “If you find that your face is sensitive, or you have a tumour in this area, we recommend avoiding facials that incorporate massage.”

"A gentle facial that incorporates deeply moisturising ingredients can be beneficial"

“This is especially true if your cancer is affecting the lymph nodes around your face, as many facial massages focus on draining excess fluids from your lymph nodes. But this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a facial—just be sure to pick a hydrating option that comes with a light touch or application,” Lorela adds.

Cancer affects your day-to-day life and routines. The physical effects of the illness or treatments you receive to fight it can prevent you from doing a lot of the things you love. But if you enjoy the mood-boosting, tension-busting effects of a spa day, the good news is that you do not have to give this up. In fact, if you choose the right treatments, it can even improve your quality of life.

Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa was awarded the distinguished title of "Best Luxury Spa" in the 2019 Candis Spa Awards and is shortlisted for the Large Hotel of the Year Award in the prestigious 2023 Cumbria Tourism Awards. The spa is also up for Best Spa for a Countryside Getaway in the Good Spa Guide Awards 2023.

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