Saunas have been used to promote health for years. Some believe that saunas may help during cancer treatment. While some research suggests that heating the body may help during treatment, it’s unclear whether a sauna can do this.

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People have been touting the benefits of saunas for years, and some people believe they’re especially helpful for preventing cancer or for use while going through cancer treatment.

While there may be many health benefits of taking saunas, it remains unclear whether they provide protection from developing cancer or help for people who have cancer. More research is needed to determine whether the benefits of using a sauna include these.

A sauna is essentially a hot room. Often built from wood, these rooms are heated to temperatures of around 150°F to 195°F (65°C to 90°C).

There are two main types of sauna:

Traditional sauna

A traditional sauna, often called a Finnish sauna, uses hot rocks or a heating element to create heat. This creates heat in the entire sauna room, not just in your body.

In addition, water is poured onto hot rocks or heating element to create steam, making the air in Finnish saunas very humid. The heat and humidity will cause you to sweat.

Infrared sauna

An infrared sauna uses light panels to create heat in your body rather than heating the air in the room. You can’t see these infrared light waves, but you feel the warmth while inside an infrared sauna.

The heat coming from the light panels will cause you to sweat. Infrared sauna is sometimes referred to as a far-infrared sauna.

No matter the type you choose, saunas affect your body in several ways that may be beneficial. For instance, your body temperature rises, causing your blood vessels to widen (dilate). This increases circulation, much like when you perform mild to moderate exercise.

Other potential benefits of a sauna include:

  • Stress relief: The increased circulation and warmth may promote relaxation in many people and help relieve stress.
  • Improved cardiovascular health: One study found that those who had more sauna and longer sessions per week were less likely to have sudden cardiac death and less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than participants who had fewer and shorter sauna sessions per week.
  • Pain relief: Research suggests that infrared sauna may help people with low back pain. An older study from 2009 suggests that sauna use may help people with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Not according to a 2019 Finnish study. The researchers reviewed data from 2,173 white men ages 42 to 61 years with a median follow-up time of 24.3 years.

They found no significant increase in prostate, gastrointestinal, or lung cancers between participants who had a sauna more than four sauna sessions per week and those who had two to three sessions per week compared to men who only used the sauna less than once per week.

More research is needed to see whether these results apply to other genders, races, and ages.

While many people may believe this, there’s not enough research to support it. That same 2019 Finnish study found no reduction in risk either. They found no difference between groups of people with different rates of sauna usage.

The study didn’t include a control group of people who didn’t sauna at all. While this study is limited in value as it relates to the general population, it does highlight the need to study a more diverse group of individuals before determining the benefits or risks of saunas related to cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, research suggests that exposure to heat therapy may improve how well radiation and chemotherapy work.

While the heat therapy studied is a controlled type of heat therapy called hyperthermia that is given in a medical setting and not a sauna, this finding might indicate that traditional or infrared sauna use might be helpful for cancer patients along with traditional anticancer treatment. More research is needed.

There’s not enough evidence to say that saunas help during cancer treatments. While much of the research that has been done has led to positive results, these studies aren’t yet conclusive.

However, there are some studied benefits of sauna, such as pain relief, that could be beneficial to cancer patients. If you’re considering trying an infrared sauna, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare professional to be sure sauna use is safe for you.