Our guide to cancer-safe spa treatments is here to dispel the outdated myth that spas aren’t safe spaces for cancer patients.
Living with cancer not only impacts physical health but also has a mental toll so it’s easy to see how the relaxing and rejuvenating effects of a spa day can help boost well-being. However, you might be a little nervous and sensitive about the right experiences for you.
While there are some limitations or considerations to bear in mind, we spoke to cancer specialists to form an expert guide to making the most of a spa day when living with cancer. It’s designed to help you enjoy every moment of your time in the spa without worry.
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,” explains Lorela Movileanu, the spa manager at Armathwaite Hall, a luxury hotel and spa in the Lake District that offers cancer-safe treatments. “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.”
The effects of chemotherapy
While every person who has cancer has different needs, the treatments you may be undergoing to fight cancer can affect both how you are feeling and your overall spa experience.
“Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can make your skin, hair and nails weaker, meaning it is wise to avoid certain treatments and types of products,” says Movileanu. In particular, it is wise to minimise the risk of bruising and infection, as well as monitoring the potential for increased sensitivity to pain.
“The jury is out on steam treatments and hot tubs for cancer patients,” Movileanu continues. “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.”
What to look for
It’s important to choose a spa that is open about its ability to confidently treat cancer patients, so check your chosen spa has cancer trained therapists and protocols that are recognised by insurers. Often, that should only require a quick and simple question at booking.
A good guide is to look for partnerships with registered charities, such as Made For Life, which offers training and specialised treatments, including both facials and massages, specifically designed for those living with or recovering from cancer. Another organisation to look for is Safe Hands for Cancer, which identifies spa destinations where therapists have had the right level of training to allow them to safely and effectively treatment anyone with or recovering from cancer.
The key to safe massage after a cancer diagnosis is open communication on both sides. If you have a type of cancer that has formed a solid tumour, you should make sure your therapist knows where it is so it can be avoided, and a correctly trained therapist shouldn’t be deterred by this. It’s also recommended you avoid deep tissue massages in favour of lighter pressures due to your body’s likelihood towards greater sensitivity.
Our particular recommendation is massages that use ancient Chinese tuina movements as an alternative to the constant kneading and pressing associated with general massages. ‘Tuina’ translates to “pinch and pull” and 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.
Offering the pinnacle of Made For Life's holistic offering, Armathwaite Hall's 90-minute Hand On Heart Ritual lulls you into a deep state of relaxation. It uses traditionally slow Tuina Chinese massage movements on your head, face, upper back and shoulders to gently remove areas of built-up tension.
Sea Containers London makes finding suitable treatments on their menu easy with simple symbols that include 'wellness for cancer trained'. There's lots of cancer-safe therapies to choose from, but the bespoke bust massage is renowned for its ability to release tension in your spine and shoulder girdle, using the spa's homemade marigold, rosehip and lemon balm remedies.
What other body treatments are available?
If you’re still tentative about massages, there are other treatments that have been designed specifically for people living with, receiving treatment for, or in recovery from cancer. Touch therapy in particular is recommended for individuals whose skin is too sensitive for massages or facials. The technique involves very light or close to body touch, and it has been found to have pain-relieving benefits and also help reduce anxiety. Other treatments also involve using reclining positions that don’t require lying flat on your stomach, to maximise comfort levels.
“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,” says Movileanu. “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.”
Carden Park in Cheshire has partnered with Made For Life and its seven cancer-trained therapists are trained to the charity's cancer protocol, including adjusting pressure and avoiding areas if required. The spa offers touch therapy that uses soothing, gentle hand placement to slow your heart rate, alongside nourishing organic balms and lotions to give your mind and body a hug.
Due to a partnership with Jennifer Young – the founder of Beauty Despite Cancer – Craxton Wood's spa offers the latest specialised therapies for people living with cancer. That includes a thorough 'top-to-toe' massage and another to calm busy minds. What really sets it apart though is that the spa allows for flexibility and substitutions within its core menu, so you don't have to compromise.
Facials for cancer patients
While vigorous massage is not recommended for facial treatments during a cancer diagnosis, a gentler facial option can be very beneficial for both your mental health, and skin. Cancer treatments can unfortunately leave your complexion sensitive, red and flaky, so a facial that incorporates deeply moisturising ingredients can be just what you need.
“If you find that your face is sensitive, or you have a tumour in this area, we recommend avoiding facials that incorporate massage,” explains Movileanu. “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.”
The Midland Hotel’s Rena Spa is Safe Hands for Cancer accreditated and you can enjoy a host of mind and body-soothing treatments there. A stand-out is the use of Obsidian and Onyx ritual stones in the Rose and Honey Facial. Their cooling and anti-inflammatory effect helps to relieve headaches, nausea and to calm sensitive or irritated skin.
The Wellness for Cancer Spa Day at Nirvana in Berkshire includes the Wellness Royal Jelly Balancing Facial. This skin-boosting facial uses antioxidant-rich Germaine de Capuccini products to nourish sensitive skin, alongside a cooling, gentle marble stone massage to help refresh your complexion.
Lead image: Unsplash
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