Cancer: the most feared word in medicine. It should be. According to the World Health Organization, in 2008 cancer became the leading cause of death worldwide, claiming 7.6 million lives that year. They predict that by 2030 cancer will be claiming more than 11 million lives per year.
Cancer starts with one single cell that, through a range of internal and external processes, becomes a tumor cell. What was once a vital part of your body now begins attacking you from the inside. If not caught early, that cell will reproduce quickly, interfering with the rest of your body’s functions.
We started thinking about cancer this week when we read this article in Japan Today about Tamagawa Onsen in Akita Japan. The hot springs in this area are some of the most acidic in all of the world and the rock in the area has high concentrations of naturally occurring radium. Japanese cancer sufferers believe that laying on the rocks and bathing in the springs can help cure cancer. Some use the onsen to augment a western medical treatment program. Others who cannot get access to medical treatment use it as their own version of radiation therapy. Even the area’s rocks, which are not supposed to be removed from the area, can sell for thousands of dollars for people too ill to make the journey to the onsen. The blog Only For Lonelies has a nice writeup on the background of this spring.
The Japanese are not the only ones who believe that heat bathing can help mitigate cancer.
One alternative is Kelley Metabolic Cancer Therapy. In addition to taking large numbers of supplements, the program calls for daily use of a near-infrared lamp sauna to help rid the body of the cancerous cells. The thought is that there are two mechanisms at work: Cancer cells cannot tolerate high temperatures as well as healthy cells, and some cancer cells are affected by certain frequencies of visible light.
Cancer cells not tolerating high temperatures is a proven medical fact. American Cancer Society has a large article on hyperthermia to heat a tumor up to 45°C (113°F). The heating can sometimes destroy a tumor by itself, or make the tumor more vulnerable to chemotherapy or radiation treatments. The heating is done using special machines that heat just the tumor and little of the surrounding tissue or by elevating the whole body temperature of the patient.
Light therapy is another commonly discussed advantage for using a near-infrared sauna. Proponents claim that certain wavelengths of light can help the body destroy cancer cells. These wavelengths are present in the heat lamps used in a near infrared sauna. Unfortunately, the American Cancer Society cannot find any evidence to back these claims. Light therapy is used in professional cancer treatment, but only as an activator for certain photosensitive drugs.
Saunas can have another benefit for cancer sufferers: Pain management. Heating the body in a sauna and cooling it gently has been shown to help sufferers of chronic pain ease their symptoms without medication.
If you are suffering from cancer, and are looking for alternatives, the sauna may be a benefit for you. However, like all alternative therapies, you should discuss what you plan to do with your doctor first. Many medications are heat sensitive. Others can interfere with your body’s natural cooling mechanisms. What may seem like a harmless addition could cause serious complications for you.