Breast Cancer Chemotherapy: Enjoying Summer Safely

Patient Expert
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Undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer brings an array of serious responsibilities. To help prevent complications, here are a few useful tips.

Wash your hands frequently. Watch for over-the-counter drug reactions. Take your meds. Exercise (lightly). Oh, and don’t forget to restOne side effect of chemotherapy (and radiation as well) is your skin becomes super-sensitive to sunlight. So doing chemo in the summer can be even more challenging that it typically is. If you’ve always had a tendency to tan easily, you may suddenly find you’ve got a sunburn after just an hour on the beach. And if you’re fair-skinned and burn easily, watch out.

Another chemo side effect is an impaired immune system; your defense against germs and bacteria is down. Any exposure, no matter how fleeting or small, can result in illness. And illness during chemo can be a life-or-death situation.

The solution? Common sense and a dose of patience. Your goals are to avoid prolonged exposure to bright, strong sunlight and to protect your immune system. While it’s irritating to pile sun awareness and crowd control on top of all your other chemo responsibilities, this will most likely be the only summer of your entire life you’re dealing with this. To help prevent complications, here are a few useful tips:

DO

  • Wear a hat that covers your neck; if you’ve lost your hair, your neck is suddenly vulnerable to sunburn.
  • Use sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher.
  • Stay hydrated. Your skin is an organ and needs water, just like the rest of your body.
  • Protect your feet and hands — they can burn too!

DON’T

  • Overdo in the heat, especially if chemo has put your into menopause. Menopause raises your core body temperature, making you more vulnerable to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
  • Spend time in the sun in the middle of the day -- choose early morning/late afternoon.
  • Join the crowd at the beach or pool; crowds mean germs. Go later or earlier in the day, or find a less crowded swimming facility.
  • Stop taking sun and crowd precautions the day of your last chemo treatment; the drugs will remain in your system for up to two months.

See More Helpful Articles:

Understanding How Summer and Heat Can Affect Your Body

Eating Right in the Summer

Guide to Summer Clothes After a Mastectomy

Vacation Away From Cancer

Having Chemotherapy? What You Need to Know Right Now


Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel_, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network. _

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