Cancer and the Summer Months

June 17, 2013
Download MP3 (6.09 MB/6:39)

This podcast talks about six steps that people with cancer can take to stay healthy and comfortable during warmer weather.



You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors that care for people with cancer.

Our topic today is cancer and the summer months.                                         

Summertime brings sun, heat, and outdoor activities, but it can also present challenging health and lifestyle issues for people with cancer.

In this podcast, we’ll talk about six steps that people with cancer can take to stay healthy and comfortable during warmer weather.

Step one: Protect yourself from sun exposure. Intense sun exposure can weaken the immune system more than cancer treatment has already. In particular, skin that has received radiation therapy is very sensitive to the sun and should be protected from direct sunlight, both during the treatment period and after treatment is completed. And, people who are receiving chemotherapy may have more intense skin reactions and sun sensitivity; be sure to ask your health care team about this possible side effect regarding the specific medications you are taking.

To protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun, limit exposure from 10 o’clock in the morning to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. This is when the sun's rays are the most intense. Also,  use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapply it often while outside, especially after heavy perspiration or being in the water. Ask your doctor to recommend a sunscreen for sensitive skin if you received radiation therapy, since sunscreen may further irritate your skin.

In addition, wear dark, tightly woven fabrics for skin protection, especially for those areas of skin treated with radiation therapy or that have surgical scars. Finally, if you’ve had hair loss, be sure to protect your ears and head with a hat or zinc-based sunblock.

Step two: Avoid dehydration during hot summer days. Some side effects of cancer treatment, such as vomiting and diarrhea, may cause dehydration and possibly heat exhaustion. Some signs of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, cramped muscles, dizziness, headaches, fever, and very dark urine.

To prevent dehydration, drink fluids on a regular basis, before becoming thirsty. Try to drink at least six to 10 glasses of water every day, and drink even more when outside in the heat. Iced fluids, such as frozen pops or ice water, can help quench thirst and cool down the body. Also, avoid beverages with alcohol or caffeine, and eat vegetables and fruits with a high fluid content.

Step three: Manage hot flashes. Hot flashes may be a side effect of people receiving hormone therapy and can be triggered by hot weather. To cool down during a hot flash, wear breathable fabrics such as cotton or linen, keep iced beverages on hand, and avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine. In addition, you can lower the thermostat, turn on a ceiling fan, or use a hand-held fan. If your doctor says it's okay to exercise, consider swimming because the water will cool you down throughout the workout. To manage hot flashes during the night, take a cool shower and put on lightweight clothing before going to bed.

Step four: Take part in a physical activity. Summertime is a good time to consider starting an exercise program. Physical activity helps with the side effects of cancer treatment, such as hot flashes from hormone therapy, weight gain from chemotherapy, and stiffness from surgery. If you have lost your hair due to chemotherapy, be sure to protect your head from the sun during physical activity. And, always talk with your doctor about an appropriate exercise plan before beginning.

Step five: Keep your head cool with a comfortable wig. Wigs can feel hot and itchy in the summer. For a more comfortable option, consider wearing a cotton head scarf or turban, which will help keep you cooler. If you decide to wear a wig in the summer due to ongoing hair loss, it may be helpful to cut your hair short or shave your head to keep cool and help your wig fit better. In addition, lightweight, synthetic-hair wigs will keep you cooler than human-hair wigs because their open-cap construction allows your head to breathe and heat to escape. They can also be worn with a mesh wig liner that's similar to a fishnet stocking to keep your head cool. Also, synthetic-hair wigs don't get flat or frizzy in the summer humidity like human-hair wigs can, and they hold their style and color better even if they get wet or are exposed to the sun.

And, step six: Wear custom-made swimsuits and caps. Swimming is one of the safest and most comfortable ways to become physically active, and it strengthens the abdomen, back, and shoulders. However, for people with cancer - particularly breast cancer - it can be challenging to find a swimsuit that works well.

Women with breast cancer may want to look for a bathing suit that has a higher neckline and armholes to conceal scars. What’s more, several bathing suit brands are designed specifically for women with breast cancer that have built-in bra pockets for securing breast forms or prostheses. As an alternative to custom swimsuits, a retailer may be able to add a bra pocket to the inside of a regular bathing suit.

There are also special “swim forms” that are made to fit in bra pockets and are similar to conventional breast forms, but much lighter and more comfortable to wear when swimming. Made from clear silicone, swim forms attach to the bathing suit with fabric tabs or in a built-in pocket, and some can be attached directly to your chest with adhesive.

In addition, there are special swim caps designed for people receiving chemotherapy that give added protection for sensitive skin.

Following the six steps discussed in this podcast can help you to stay healthy and comfortable while enjoying the summer months.

For more information on this topic, contact your doctor or visit Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net podcast.