How can spa therapists support clients who are experiencing menopause?May 21, 2021
When we first started working with cancer and skincare, it was a surprise to us that there were women you would never have expected to be going through menopause, going through it because of cancer treatment. The result is that menopause has long run in parallel with much of our skincare and therapy protocol development - not always actively, but as something we are very aware of. it’s also an area that we want to do more in, and which we know many therapists want to be able to support their clients with as well.
Earlier in the year, during our lockdown webinars, we discussed menopause in general and as a side effect of some cancer treatments. It was one of the most popular webinars we have ever done because it really isn’t talked about enough, even though it’s a natural state of life for many and can also be brought on medically. For those of us in the spa industry, our natural position is to want to provide healing, care and support. Given the statistics around menopause, being able to offer that from a position of understanding is vital. So, what can we do?
Menopause: the statistics
To give an idea of scale, internet searches around menopause and support during that time have doubled since 2004. At any time, 1.5 million women in the UK are in menopause and of them 96% experience physical and emotional systems. Meanwhile, 10% of the US population (which stood at 328.2 million in 2019) is in menopause and 84% say consequences interfere with their lives. The NCBI predicts that with the ageing of the worldwide population in the coming decades, it is estimated that 1.2 billion women will be menopausal or postmenopausal by the year 2030.
Naturally occurring menopause typically affects women between the ages of 47 and 55, with the average age being 51. It tends to be a process that occurs gradually over a number of years, and results in a number of consequences (we will refer to them as consequences rather than symptoms as they’re part of a naturally occurring process). The most obvious consequence of menopause is infertility. However, many women also experience:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
- A reduced sex drive
- Brain fog
Why is menopause often a side effect of treatment?
The reason some cancer treatments can result in medically induced menopause is complex. For many, it is due to the type of cancer that an individual has, which will then dictate the treatment protocol.
For example, there is a lot of evidence that oestrogen is involved in cancer with around 70-80% of breast cancers being hormone receptor positive. That means that they benefit from the presence of certain hormones.
If cancer is oestrogen positive, oestrogen will ‘feed’ that cancer. Progesterone is also a factor - hormone receptor positive tumours are oestrogen receptor positive and progesterone receptor positive. That means they have a lot of hormone receptors and the hormones are a good thing for that cancer. All of that said, 20-30% of cancers are not hormone receptors and each individual and circumstance is different, so this is a very broad and simple explanation.
If you have a woman in her reproductive years with high hormone levels and they’re diagnosed with a receptor positive cancer, medical treatment will be about reducing those hormone levels. That will likely result in menopause and other side effects, and it can be very quick (instead of a 10-year journey that would happen naturally).
Different ways to take someone into medical menopause include:
- Chemical (drugs - which can take weeks or months)
- Surgical (which is immediate)
- Chemotherapy (this is because chemotherapy targets fast replicating cells. It is the use of systemic, toxic drugs that go into the bloodstream and kill cells that grow quickly because that’s how tumours grow. There’s often collateral damage in other fast replicating cells such as hair, skin, lips, nails, the digestive tract, as well as the ovaries and reproductive system)
- Ovarian shutdown (hormone treatment)
What therapists can do to help those experiencing menopausal consequences
A lot of the consequences of menopause are already addressed by therapists when they see clients. We already know how to support someone with sleeplessness or headaches for example, assuming we do not feel that they are symptomatic of something that requires medical advice. For example, you might include calming frankincense in your aromatherapy blends, sleep supporting chamomile or lavender and eucalyptus for concentration.
We also know that while some people seek a one stop shop approach to menopause through their doctor (to the best of our knowledge the only medical support is via HRT), others can benefit from a combination of holistic approaches including:
What we recommend is that as few therapists specialise in that range of holistic approaches, one of the best ways we can support clients going through menopause is to develop a network of specialist practitioners who cover the different areas. The nature of individuals is that if you find someone you trust you may well feel most comfortable speaking to another person that they recommend as well, making a network of therapist skillsets an extremely powerful way of supporting individuals.
Finally, whether the consequences of menopause have been brought on naturally or medically does not make an enormous difference to the way you are likely to treat them in relation to menopause itself. The caveat to that, however, is in relation to touch therapies and any contraindications you may need to take into account as a result of cancer treatments.
Find out more about our Cancer Awareness qualifications in order to support more clients experiencing cancer with holistic therapies, safely.
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