What is Chemotherapy?

One of the most difficult health issues anyone can face is cancer. There are more than 11 million cancer survivors in the United States alone, according to the American Cancer Society. Chemotherapy is a common treatment for cancer patients, but it is also used to treat other conditions such as immune system disorders and bone marrow diseases, according to the Mayo Clinic. Our body is constantly replacing old cells with new ones through a process of growing and dividing cells, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. When your body produces cells in an uncontrolled manner, it can cause cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are used to stop cancer cells from reproducing and kill the fast-growing cancer cells in the body. In an article published by the Mayo Clinic, chemotherapy is done with the use of a variety of different drugs that can either be used along or in combination to treat a variety of cancers. There are a variety of different ways doctors can administer chemo, whether it is through chemotherapy pills, shots, creams, or infusions. The type, frequency and duration of chemotherapy a person receives will depend on the type and stage of cancer in the body. While chemotherapy is an effective way to treat cancer, it also causes a variety of side effects including chronic pain, loss of appetite, mouth sores, fevers, fatigue, hair loss, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, constipation and easy bruising. Patients may be able to relieve some of their side-effects through regular sauna sits. Several medical studies have found that regular sauna sits have been able to improve fatigue and chronic pain, among other ailments.

How Infrared Heat Works

Although saunas have gained popularity in recent years, the use of saunas dates back thousands of years in cultures around the world, most recently the discovery of a bath house in Scotland dating back to the Bronze Age, around 2000 B.C., as reported in an article by the Observer. There are several different types of saunas, but regardless the type the health benefit’s your body receives from them are all the same. In Infrared saunas, special lamps use light waves to heat a person’s body instead of the entire room. Infrared saunas are one of the few mediums that provide infrared heat in a controlled environment. Infrared heat is an invisible electromagnetic wave with a wavelength longer than that of visible light that helps improve blood flow. According to a 2009 review of evidence done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, researchers found that infrared saunas produce a lighter demand on the cardiovascular system, so they in turn might be beneficial to people who lead a more sedentary life due to medical issues. Furthermore the review, which covered nine studies, found limited evidence for improvement to chronic pain, which is one of the more common side effects from chemotherapy. Typically in a traditional sauna, the surrounding air is heated up to about 185 degrees, which then heats your body up. However, in infrared saunas the temperature only reaches about 140 degrees. Infrared rays penetrate your body more deeply, which cause your body to start sweating at a lower temperature than a traditional sauna. Therefore, because infrared saunas have a lower temperature, they may be a better alternative for people with sensitive stomachs or nausea following chemotherapy treatment, among other medical issues.

Benefits of Infrared Heat to Treat Fatigue

Another very common side effect of chemotherapy is fatigue. The use of saunas to treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is showing promising results. Two patients with CFS saw improvements in their symptoms including pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbance following treatment with thermal therapy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. The study done by doctors at the Respiratory and Stress Care Center at the Kagoshima University Hospital in Kagoshima, Japan subjected the two patients to far-infrared ray dry saunas. Each person received treatment once a day for a total of 35 sessions. After 15 to 25 sauna sessions, patients reported dramatic improvement in their CFS symptoms. After discharge, the two patients continued therapy approximately once or twice a week for about one year. According to the study, neither of the subjects showed relapse or inflammation of symptoms during their first year after discharge. Experts say the study’s results suggest that thermal therapy may be a promising alternative method for the treatment of CFS.

Sauna Use to Treat Long-Term Effects from Chemotherapy

While many of the side effects are seen during and shortly after chemotherapy, there are some additional long-term side effects that may persist for months or years after treatment including mood swings, depression and short-term memory loss, according to an article published by Medical News Today. A study published in the Alternative Medicine Review reported that patients who received sauna therapy for chronic pain measured in with not only diminished pain behaviors, but also with lower anger levels as well. In the study, 46 patients hospitalized for chronic pain were divided into two groups. The control group received rehabilitation, behavioral and exercise therapy. The test group received the same treatment along with 15 minutes of sauna therapy five days a week for four weeks. Two years later, a follow up revealed that 77 percent of the test sauna group had been able to go back to work following their chronic pain treatment, compared to only 50 percent of the control group. If you are looking for relief from side effects following chemotherapy treatment, regular sauna sits may be an option. Talk to your doctor before starting a sauna treatment. It is recommended that you only spend between five and 10 minutes for your first session. Once you get more acclimated to the heat, you can slowly increase your sauna sits to up to about 20 minutes. It is recommended that you never drink alcohol before or after using a sauna, instead, drink two to four glasses of water to replenish your body’s water.

Resources: The Mayo Clinic; The Mayo Clinic Staff., “Chemotherapy”, April 27, 2017; National Cancer Institute, “Chemotherapy to Treat Cancer,” National Institutes of Health, April 25, 2015; Dr. Tania Dempsey, “WSJ says Infrared Saunas Don’ts Help You Detox- Studies Disagree”, The Observer, November, 2017; U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health; National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health; Masuda A, Kihara T, Fukudome T, Shinsato T, Minagoe S, & Tei C., “The Effects of Repeated Thermal Therapy for Two Patients with Chroic Fatigue Syndrome,” [published online April, 2005]; U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health; Masada A, Koga Y, Hattanmaru M, et al. “Effects of Repeated Thermal Therapy for Patients with Chronic Pain,” Psychother Psychosom 2005;74:288-294