Managing Treatments

Summer Safety Precautions for Cancer Patients

Summer is a great time to sit back and relax. To make sure your cancer treatment doesn't interfere, take these precautions when the temperature rises.

When undergoing cancer treatment, you make a lot of adjustments to your lifestyle. During the peak of the heat, you may need to learn some summer safety precautions as well, depending on how treatment is affecting you. Here are some common concerns to be extra diligent about during the warmer months.

Your Skin May Be More Sensitive to the Sun

According to the American Cancer Society, radiation treatment can cause your skin to burn more easily. Even during chemotherapy, you want to avoid sun exposure, as your skin may be more susceptible to damage. You first want to protect your bald head by wearing a solid (not straw) wide-brimmed hat at all times outdoors to protect your delicate scalp, ears and neck. Keep the hat where you keep your shoes.

The American Academy of Dermatology advises you apply a shot-glass sized amount (equal to one ounce) of broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to your entire body 15 minutes before going in the sun and every two hours after. Get a smaller bottle to attach to your key ring so you always have some on you. When applying, pay extra attention to healing scars, as sun exposure can cause them to enlarge and discolor. Completely cover those sensitive areas to avoid further damage.

Your Body May Be More Susceptible to Foodborne Illnesses

Food at barbecues or picnics is more likely to harbor food borne bacteria because of insects, being outside for too long and wind-borne dust and bacteria. While undergoing cancer treatment, your white blood cell count is often lowered, making you more susceptible to infection from these bacteria. When possible, at outdoor events, bring your own food, to avoid any confusion or fear about how the food was prepared or chilled.

You might want to avoid fresh fruit and vegetables when your immunity is lowest because mold and bacteria can collect around the stem and any bruised or broken areas, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Wash all your produce thoroughly, remove all bruised parts and clean your own hands after preparation, before consuming produce. You can put a reminder on a sticky note on your crisper so everyone knows the protocol.

You May Feel More Uncomfortable in the Heat

Anyone who has gone outside when feeling poorly knows that heat and humidity makes everything feel worse, which of course applies to cancer patients. To help, bring your own means of comfort. An umbrella can shade you from the sun if you’re suffering from hot flashes due to cancer treatment drugs, and make sure a chair is handy in case you start to feel overheated or weak. Along with these items, keep a case of water bottles in your trunk to so you can always stay hydrated and wear light, breezy clothes to soothe your sensitive skin and avoid overheating.

Additionally, during summer, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends that you switch up your real hair wig for a synthetic hair wig with an open-weave cap construction, which lets heat out and fresh air in. As well, when your skin is more sensitive and your body’s immunity is low, you might experience a more severe itching, swelling or reddening reaction to insect bites. Ask your doctor to recommend an insect repellent to use, and especially apply it at dusk when insect populations are high.

The trick is to be aware of how cancer treatment is affecting your body. Practice these summer safety precautions, and stay alert to warning signs so you can take action immediately and get indoors when you need to.

Naomi Mannino
Naomi Mannino