Clatterbridge nurse urges cancer patients to stay sun safe this summer

With temperatures set to soar again, Linda Lyons, Advanced Research Nurse at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust, warns patients to take extra care to protect their skin during, and following, treatment.

“Chemotherapy and radiation can increase your sensitivity to the sun. With the warm weather set to stick around, even if you’re not sunbathing, it’s important to take precautions any time you’ll be outside,” says Linda.

“While long-term exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can pose health risks, going through cancer treatment can make your skin even more sensitive to the sun as it causes your body to more easily absorb the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, a side effect known as drug-induced photosensitivity.”

If you’ve had chemotherapy

Nearly any chemotherapy agent (or non-cancer-related medications as well) may cause you to be more sensitive to the sun and this can sometimes last for several years after treatment. Ask your cancer doctor or specialist nurse if you need to take special care to protect your skin.

If you’ve had radiotherapy

It’s important to keep in mind that chemotherapy isn’t the only treatment that can raise your risk of a sunburn. The skin in the area treated by radiotherapy stays sensitive for many years. You need to take extra care to protect it from the sun, especially for the first year. The skin in that area is at a higher risk of burning and long-term sun damage, including skin cancers.

Sun safety tips during treatment

  • Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (usually between 11am and 3pm).
  • Ask your oncologist which sunscreen they would recommend. Some sunscreens work better than others, and the chemicals in some sunscreens may be irritating to your already sensitive skin. Make sure to select a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects against UVA as well as UVB rays and is at least SPF 30.
  • If you have lost your hair or it is thinning, cover up with a hat or headscarf to protect your scalp. If you do not want to cover your head, use sun cream that has an SPF of at least 30 on your scalp.
  • Wigs can be hot in the sun, but a cotton scarf can be comfortable while providing protection.
  • Protect your face, neck and ears with a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Cover up with long-sleeved tops and trousers or long skirts. If you have had radiotherapy, keep the treated area completely covered.
  • Wear sunglasses with a guaranteed ultraviolet (UV) light filter. These protect your eyes from the sun’s burning rays.
  • Don’t forget your lips. Sunscreens designed especially for the lips are generally safe if you should swallow some following application.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. But remember that alcohol or drinks with caffeine in them can make you dehydrated.
  • Try to sit in the shade, even at other times of the day. Heat can make cancer-related Tiredness (fatigue) worse.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Not only can tanning beds leave you with a burn, but can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Keep in mind that you may react differently to the sun while going through chemotherapy than you did in the past. If you were once someone who tanned easily, you may now sunburn.

Image: Linda Lyons, Advanced Research Nurse at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust

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