Originally written 19 Nov 2018 / Updated 10 Sep 2019 and 17 July 2020
Hyperthermia, heating the whole body or just the tumor site to 107° F or more, is a common cancer treatment in many countries and is gaining increasing acceptance in the US. Research has shown that temperatures around 113° F can destroy cancer cells and potentially shrink tumors with fairly minimal damage to healthy tissues. While medical hyperthermia is more scientific than sitting in a sauna at the gym, time spent in your boring, run-of-the-mill sauna can still be therapeutic to those with cancer.
If I were to single out one method to combat cancer, it is the sauna. It assists removal of chemical toxins and heavy metals, increases oxygenation, enhances the immune system, and reduces the radiation burden in the body.Lawrence Wilson, MD, Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, 2014
Benefits of Sauna for Cancer
I was surprised to actually find some substantial science to support sauna therapy. Intense, short-term heat activates thermoregulatory pathways with benefits like nervous system regulation and increased circulation along with metabolic changes including reduced inflammation, increased insulin sensitivity, and a reduction in oxidative stress – all healing things for those of us with cancer.
Nervous System Regulation
Saunas quiet the sympathetic nervous system, the part of our nervous system associated with the “fight or flight” response, and puts the parasympathetic nervous system, good ol’ “rest and digest,” in charge. This is good because when the sympathetic nervous system is aroused, functions such as digestion, elimination, and immune response are put on hold as the body prioritizes things like fighting, flighting, or having a panic attack in the office bathroom. Research shows that the heat of the sauna has the ability to inhibit sympathetic activity encouraging better digestion, immune function, and detoxification.
Did I just say detoxification? I know, I know, we all have kidneys and livers to handle it. Except that many of us, including me at the time of this article update, do not as a result of damage from chemo. Regardless of the state of your liver or kidneys, the skin is the largest major organ for eliminating body wastes. Put it to use sweating out heavy metals and other chemical toxins stored beneath the skin.
Cancer thrives in deoxygenated tissues and at least one study suggests that low oxygen levels is a primary cause of cancer growth. I don’t need a study link to convince you that, while sweating in the sauna your circulation increases. This increased blood flow brings nutrients, hormones, oxygen and other substances to all body tissues. Here’s a link, anyway.
Reduced Inflammation & Oxidative Stress
Science has made clear that the inflammatory microenvironment around tumors contributes to their proliferation, survival, and metastasis. Reducing inflammation is one of the most important ways we can make our bodies a less inviting environment for cancer. A study of over 2000 men showed a significant inverse association between the frequency of sauna bathing and the level of C-reactive protein, a common measure of inflammation, indicating that regular saunaing is an excellent way to reduce inflammation.
Increased Insulin Sensitivity
This benefit was new and fascinating to me. Evidently, “whole-body heat stress triggers some of the physiologic responses observed with exercise,” per this study. Glucose uptake increases as does insulin sensitivity. For those of us with cancers that feed on glucose, depriving them of their favorite meal is a treat in and of itself.
Pain Relief and Relaxation
You can always put the research to rest and enjoy a sauna simply as a way to relax your achy muscles.
Infrared vs Radiant Heat Sauna
Some – especially infrared sauna salespeople – argue that you can more comfortably achieve a high body temperature in an infrared sauna than the standard Finnish sauna (along with many other much more outlandish claims). Infrared saunas use infrared wavelengths of light to penetrate and heat the body from within whereas the traditional Finnish sauna heats the air and warms you from the outside. I’ve only used one infrared sauna at Higher Dose in New York and it really didn’t feel that different to me but your mileage may vary.
Most of the infrared saunas you encounter are “far-infrared” referring to wavelengths on the far side of the spectrum. Nevertheless, it seems that technology is working to bring a full-spectrum or near-infrared sauna to an expensive spa or health club near you. The benefits discussed below apply to both infrared and radiant heat saunas.
Far Infrared vs Near Infrared Sauna For Cancer
There isn’t yet a tremendous amount of research comparing the benefits of near-infrared or far-infrared saunas for cancer. There is likely value to the whole infrared spectrum (wavelengths between 780 nm and 1000 μm), but far-infrared seems to be the most commonly used for therapeutic purposes.
My Experience with the Sauna for Cancer
We’re lucky to have a free sauna in our building. While my work schedule can make it challenging, I try to get in 3 or so sessions a week. Not only is it pleasant, relaxing, and a good way to increase my heart rate but, after each 15-30 minute session my first couple of months, I noticed a kind of furry texture on the skin of my torso. It took a couple of sessions to realize it was crap actually coming out of my pores! – like a used Biore pore strip. Super gross, right?
I’ve been skeptical of “detoxification” products in the past since I had perfectly functional liver and kidneys – not to mention my doctor complimented me on my immaculate colon after a colonoscopy a couple years ago (still proud!). Apparently, though, some crap hasn’t been getting out of my body until now.
Who knows what other goodness is happening in the sauna that I can’t see.
One more weapon in the cancer-fighting arsenal.
Update and At-Home Recommendations
I’m very sad to report that the sauna in our apartment closed when the coronavirus hit Hong Kong in late 2019. It’s now been over seven months without a sauna and I definitely feel the absence of its detoxifying benefits. My skin quality has deteriorated and I feel desperate for the cleansing sweat of the sauna.
Brad and I left Hong Kong in March and have been living as nomads. Access to a sauna is one of my highest priorities once we settle down.
I have a dream of installing this sauna the next time we have a house.
In the meantime, I’m seriously considering trying this sauna blanket.
I didn’t fully appreciate the healing benefits of the sauna until it was gone. With most public saunas closed in the midst of the pandemic, it’s a relief that there are still portable alternatives.
Very interesting! In all your research and experimentation, have you encountered any comparison of saunas vs. steam rooms? Wondering if one is more beneficial than the other if faced with the choice.
First, I owe you one.
Second, I actually noted and was surprised that all the research was around dry saunas. I imagine the benefits are similar (“make body hot good”). Maybe it’s because, in a medical research sense, saunas are safer than steam rooms as they pose less risk of slipping or mold? I’m reaching here.
I’ll defer to my own credentials as an expert in hot rooms to definitively state that, when faced with the choice, choose sauna but if it’s a steam room or nothing, take a steam.
Yes, the heat is good whether dry or steam (imho). Another treatment for cancer is to apply a hot water bottle for at least 20 minutes to the tumor if this can be done — such as with a breast tumor. It is like hydrotherapy treatment only it is a localized one.
Great info! Thank you!
Then sauna it is, especially if I forgot my shower shoes!
We bought an infra red (near and far) this year after my stage 4 dx. I believe it will help. Hoping to add a hbot any day now to the home regime x
Oh wow! In-home HBOT and infrared sauna?!?? This cancer doesn’t have a chance! Full time press is on!
Loving your blog and information!!! I wondered about the sauna – was this after you did radiation???
Hi Melanie! This is a great question. I used the sauna before and after but I’ve only had targeted brain radiation (SRS), never body radiation. Knowing the terrible damage that radiation can do to the skin I would definitely be cautious after body radiation. Really good point to bring up and something I’ll research more!
Thanks so much for sharing your story. Curious what the state of your tumor is, after radiation and sauna therapy?
Thanks so much, and all the best to you!
Hi Jamie! Thank you so much for the kind words!!
You can read a summary of my cancer progress at https://cancerv.me/timeline-updates/
As of November 2019, following targeted chemotherapy (daily lorlatinib), 2 rounds of brain radiosurgery for 4 tumors, Care Oncology off-label metabolic protocol, vegan keto diet, supplementation, mucho yoga, meditation, and sauna, I was declared (NED) No Evidence of Disease by my primary oncologist in Hong Kong. During my second opinion scans in the US in December 2019 that was backpedalled to (NAD) No Active Disease and we found a new brain lesion that appears to be a new tumor adjacent to a previously treated tumor. I’m currently in wait-and-see mode until next scans in February possibly reveal more.
Overall, my various therapies have been a wild success. I’m grateful for all the extra time I’ve had, currently feel amazing, and am eager to see what the future holds.
Thank you so much and very best to you, too!!
Thank you for your webpage and being so transparent to those of us trying to find good, reliable information! I have just discovered the sauna/steam room in past month as a means to combat this war – last year I was convinced that cryotherapy was the answer, and looks like I was going in the total opposite body temperature, so I don’t want to screw this up! Do you think the steam room could be hurtful? It just seems that the amount of sweat that comes out in steam room should be beneficial for us ….again, I just want to make the right choice. I am able to do either – as well as a hot tub…?
First, I think your cryotherapy was excellent treatment! I don’t have the research right on hand but exposure to cold temperatures like that boosts the immune system. Personally, I’m coming to the belief that these small, natural environmental stressors (hot, cold, hungry) are all good for the body to experience periodically. Anyway, I currently alternate my sauna with 2-3 cold showers during each session when I have time.
To answer your actual question about steam, I don’t think it’s harmful if it’s well maintained (no mold, mildrew, biofilm, etc). There’s no research I can find around the best way to raise tumor temperature which really just makes me feel even MORE strongly that it doesn’t matter. What’s most important is that you do it in the way that’s also must enjoyable so that 1) you do it regularly and 2) you can maximize your parasympathetic nervous system arousal = maximize your body’s immune response.
Final note- you should actually be sweating about the same amount in a sauna and steam room set to the same temperature. It just evaporates in the dry of the sauna whereas it accumulates on your skin along with moisture from the air in a steam room. Try weighting yourself before and after each – you should have sweat out the same amount of water weight.
Keep me posted on your experience, any ideas you have, or other schools of thought you encounter. I’m still refining my approach as well.
We put alot of water on our hot rocks in our traditional finnish sauna. We are able to raise our body temps to 103F. We hope that is weakening those cancer cells and chemo, fasting, IVC, and supplements and off label COC drugs will be the big kick in the A!!
What a perfect, healing protocol! I almost feel sorry for those cancer cells – they’re not going to last long! I’m so impressed and inspired by what you’re doing! Sending love and thoughts of healing!
Hi! I am doing all of the things you are doing. I will do chemo this week. Just wondering if you did the coc protocol during chemo or did you stop before chemo? And did you stop all supplements during chemo that were recommended by coc ( there were 16 on the list I got). I was told to start the Prolon 5 day mimicking fast three days before chemo.
Hi Lynda! I strongly believe that fasting is one of the most powerful things you can do. 3 days of water fasting (or Prolon if you prefer) before, and one day after each infusion or radiation treatment is my protocol.
I did not have infusion chemo while on COC but have continued to take all my COC medications (4 in my case) and other supplements with my daily targeted chemo pill. There were GI issues at first but I’m used to it now.
Sending thoughts of healing!
Do you recommend near infrared versus far infrared? And can you please recommend a home sauna?
I think there is likely value to the whole infrared spectrum (wavelengths between 780 nm and 1000 μm) but far-infrared seems to be the most commonly used for therapeutic purposes (eg https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5505738/).
As far as home sauna recommendations, I haven’t tried any myself so I can only share what I’ve researched. Brad and I dream of someday installing this home sauna once we have a home again. In the meantime, I’m seriously considering this far-infrared “sauna blanket” while we’re still living on the road.
Sending you love, Maggie
I should add, near infrared or far, in reference to cancer treatment.
I was dx with MBC in March 2019; I purchased a Bemer which is made in Germany and use it twice a day for 8 minutes and also use the sleep mode at night. I believe it has been a great help. I also purchased a Biomat which works infra red ray and can heat up to 158 degrees; it has several heat intensities to select from. I purchased one for my daughter, it is a mini biomat and she puts it in her chair and uses it daily. Have you every heard of it? I also have a rebounder that I am starting to use as I have developed lymphedema in my left arm. I had my lymph node pad removed when I had bilat mastectomies. So I am hoping that the rebounder will help with my lymph system. I wish you many blessings !
This is such wonderful information! Thank you for sharing! I’m so happy to hear about the Biomat – you’ve inspired me to putt the trigger!
Sending you love and thoughts of continued healing!
What do you think about the EMF levels in infrared saunas? I’m perplexed at the thought of getting radiation from the sauna. So I’m wondering if the traditional sauna might not be a better option.
Hi Susan! I love the way you’re thinking.
For me personally, the sauna is such a small part of my EMF (electromagnetic frequency) load that I don’t have concerns. Sadly, when compared to my exposure to countless WiFi signals in my building, cell phones, bluetooth speakers, and the other man-made and natural EMF sources, it hasn’t been a significant factor. Personally, I’ve focused on reducing my toxic load in other ways that I see as more impactful and less disruptive to my daily life: https://cancerv.me/2020/03/29/how-to-detox-reduce-toxic-load-toxic-burdern-cancer-disease/ Additionally, while EMF can cause the kind of oxidative damage that contributes to the development of cancer, that damage can be mitigated with antioxidants. And of course, antioxidants are wonderful for preventing cancer, once that horse has left the barn, its oxidative therapies like chemo, radiation and intravenous vitamin C that can destroy cancer cells.
I absolutely admire those who are committed to reducing the their EMF exposure. For those people, a traditional sauna is definitely a better choice. There is also a company called High Tech Health that produces low EMF Infrared saunas for those who want both worlds.
Thanks so much for your great question!
Guys there is a lot of protocol to fight cancer , I got diagnosed with prostrate cancer 9 weeks ago and am doing a lot as follows
Homone therapy (fermagon )
Hydrogen therapy ( inhalation )
Vegan diet meat chicken twice a week and fish
Hemp protein mix with hemp seed nuts
Supplements mainly / resveratrok. Savestrol. Vit b12 turmeric black pepper organic food only / at least 2 Ltrs of water a day
My prostrate has shrunk back down and no change on my matastisize spinal
Hi Lee! I’m so happy to hear that you’ve had success! Thanks so much for sharing!
What type of rebounder did you suggest is a regular trampoline just says effective the ones I’ve been looking at is quite expensive and I’m just wondering if the cheaper ones are just as effective
This is the rebounder I got, which was totally adequate. My sister-in-law got one for me to use at her place that was about 2 inches wider and I liked it even more. I’d go wider next time but still keep it under $200. Sending love!
Hi Maggie, thank you for sharing this information, my in laws have a sauna and I’m heading straight there! I’m awaiting an ultrasound for a breast lump. In the meantime, I am taking high bioavailable curcumin, taking raw garlic with warm water, applying frankincense, taking turkey tail mushroom extract (TT, chaga and many other mushrooms have incredible health benefits), doing this meditation; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHvtIcaD194 and continuing to use an earthing mat on the bed. All have been studied with promising results.
If you have a moment, perhaps check out these inspirational films; “Fantastic fungi”- the cancer outcome is incredible; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxABOiay6oA and “The earthing movie” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkW-x73Ge7U
I wish you all the very best in health and healing!
I’m so sorry for what you’re going through but it sounds like you’ve taken charge of your health and are well-resourced to handle the future regardless of your results. Your current protocol sounds lovely. I’m a huge fan of medicinal mushrooms, as you probably know =D https://cancerv.me/2020/04/27/medicinal-mushrooms-in-treating-cancer/
Thanks for the film recommendations! All my love to you on your healing journey!