Loving Summer During Cancer Treatment

Loving Summer During Cancer Treatment

After a long and cold winter, summer has finally arrived. As much as we look forward to this season, summer also brings with it challenging health and lifestyle issues for those with cancer, especially those undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

Nearly all chemotherapy agents can cause skin to be more sensitive to the sun resulting in skin reactions and possible sunburns. For those taking medications that cause a rash, the sun can intensify the skin response and worsen the rash. Skin that is now or has recently been exposed to radiation treatmentis especially sensitive to the sun’s rays.

Particular chemotherapy drugs that may lead to more intense skin reactions and possible sunburns include:

  • 5FU (5 Flourouracil)
  • Methotrexate
  • Dacarbazine
  • Mitmomycin
  • Vinblastine
  • Tamoxifen
  • Biologics (for example Cetuximab, Tarceva)

Many antibiotics also cause the skin to be more sensitive, which can lead to skin reactions or rash after sun exposure. Some of these include:

  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Levaquin
  • Tetracycline
  • Doxycycline
  • Bactrim (TMP-SMX)

Other medicines that oncology patients may be taking that can lead to sun sensitivity:

  • Lasix (Furosemide)
  • Hydrochlorothiazide
  • Benadryl
  • Aleve and Feldene
  • Cardiac medications-ask your doctor
  • Compazine (prochlorperazine)

What can you do help prevent skin sensitivity reactions from the sun?

  • Limit sun exposure during the hours of 10am and 4pm. During these hours, the sun is most intense.
  • Be sure to cover areas of skin that are undergoing radiation or have been recently radiated with either a complete sun block (for example, zinc oxide) or clothing.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (both UVA and UVB protection). Reapply after 2 hours and after swimming.
  • Don’t forget your lips! Use a lip balm with SPF 15 minimum.
  • Protect your head and ears, especially if you have hair loss. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Your scalp is very sensitive and will burn easily.
  • Keep surgical scars well covered. The sun may darken the skin at the scar.
  • Wear protective clothing. Light colors reflect the light. There are now many SPF clothing options available.
  • Be mindful of dehydration. Drink before you become thirsty and at least 8 glasses of water per day, more with exposure to heat and sweating.

Undergoing treatment for cancer during summer does not limit you to a life indoors—by following these simple precautions, you can still enjoy the summer months ahead.