Spa Treatments

As any cancer patient knows, one of the many terrible things about the disease is how unpleasant the treatment can be. By design, chemotherapy drugs attack cells that rapidly divide. That includes cancer cells, but it also affects normal cells like hair, bone marrow, and fingernails. For that reason, chemotherapy and radiation therapy have a range of debilitating side effects, including:

  • Excessive dry skin, cracking, peeling, acne, inflammation, redness
  • Hypersensitivity to products
  • Hair loss
  • Dry, brittle nails
  • Inability to feel heat

As if these physical side effects weren’t enough, the toll they take on a patient’s body often leads to a lack of self esteem. Keeping a positive attitude can be extraordinarily difficult when you feel constantly ill and are confronted by a reminder of your disease whenever you catch a glimpse of your hands or look in a mirror. Equally stressful can be the feeling of a lack of control.

Maintaining your physical appearance can boost your self esteem while also helping you feel more in control, which can be crucial to keeping a positive mindset in your day-to-day life. Recognizing this need, many spas are offering services designed for cancer patients, while “cancer spas”—spas solely devoted to cancer patients—are beginning to spring up around the country. These spas place a great deal of emphasis on establishing a comfortable environment for cancer patients, and they offer a variety of treatments aimed at mitigating the side effects of chemo- and radiation therapy.

Treatments designed to hydrate the skin, reduce stress, pain, and anxiety, induce relaxation, improve sleep, remove toxins and help enhance feelings of wellbeing can all be found at these spas. Specific treatments include:

  • Hydrating facials and massages
  • Reflexology, which proponents believe can help decrease pain, anxiety and depression, boost energy, and promote sleep
  • Aromatherapy, used to combat nausea and fatigue
  • LED light therapy, which can fight skin inflammation and pain

Spas also offer cosmetic treatments that can help boost a patient’s self-esteem, such as haircuts or wigs, makeup applications, and manicures.

As you’re choosing a spa, you should keep a few things in mind. First, make sure they use products suitable for cancer patients. Gentle, organic products with fewer ingredients are usually best, as well as ingredients like aloe vera, parabens, calendula, castile soap, lavender, vitamin E, seaweed and manuka honey. You should avoid products with perfumes and alcohol that can irritate the skin.  

Avoid massages that target areas currently undergoing treatment and make sure you tell your therapist your history of cancer. Many spas have specialized oncology massage therapists, who have experience working with cancer patients and know how to tailor treatments to your medical history. Remember, a patient undergoing cancer treatments is more susceptible to infections, so hygiene (proper disinfection of tools, for example) should be the spa’s first priority. If cancer treatments have discontinued, still take into account that skin is typically thinner in areas that received radiation therapy. Finally, always consult with your doctor prior to receiving any treatments.

While going through all of the changes that cancer brings, there are some steps you can take to make yourself feel better and mitigate some of the side effects. Looking good and taking control of your appearance may be just what you need to help you through your treatment.