Cancer and the Summer Months

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

This podcast talks about 5 steps that people with cancer can take to stay healthy and comfortable during warmer weather.



You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net (Cancer dot 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.

Today we’ll discuss coping with cancer during the summer.  

Summertime brings sun, heat, and outdoor activities. However, it may present challenging health and lifestyle issues for people with cancer. In this podcast, we’ll talk about 5 steps that people with cancer can take to stay healthy and comfortable during warmer weather.

Step one: Limit your sun exposure. During and after cancer treatment, too much sun can be unsafe. For example, intense sun exposure can weaken the immune system even more than cancer treatment has already. In addition, skin that has had radiation therapy is usually 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 having chemotherapy may have more intense skin reactions and sun sensitivity. It’s important to ask your health care team about this possible side effect of the specific medications you are taking.

To protect yourself from those harmful rays, limit your time in the sun, specifically between ten o’clock in the morning and four o’clock in the afternoon. This is when the sun's rays are the most intense so you should try to spend time in the shade whenever possible Also, use sunscreen with an SPF of thirty or higher and reapply it often while you are outside, especially after sweating or being in the water. You might want to ask your doctor to recommend a sunscreen for sensitive skin if you received radiation therapy, since sunscreen may also irritate your skin.

In addition, wear dark, tightly woven fabrics to protect your skin, especially for those areas of skin that have been treated with radiation therapy or that have a scar from surgery. Finally, if you’ve had hair loss, be sure to protect your ears and head with a hat.

Step number two: Avoid dehydration during hot summer days. Some side effects of cancer treatment, such as vomiting and diarrhea, may cause dehydration. And, this can become even more of a risk on days it is hot, if your body is losing water through sweating. Some signs of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, cramped muscles, dizziness, headaches, fever, very dark urine, a dried tongue, or trouble producing tears.

To prevent dehydration, be sure to drink fluids on a regular basis, even before you become thirsty. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water every day. And be sure to drink even more when you are outside in the heat. Iced fluids, such as frozen pops or ice chips, can help satisfy your thirst and cool down the body. Also, stay away from beverages with alcohol or caffeine, and eat vegetables and fruits with a high fluid content.

Step number three: Manage hot flashes. Hot flashes may be a side effect of 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. If possible, lower the thermostat, turn on a ceiling fan, or use a hand-held fan. You might also want to try taking a cool shower before bed to manage the hot summer nights and wear lightweight clothing to bed. If your doctor says it's okay to exercise, consider swimming because the water will cool you down throughout the workout.

Number four: 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 because of 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 the open-cap construction lets your head breathe and heat 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.

Lastly, step five: Swimming. Swimming is one of the safest and most comfortable ways to be physically active, and it strengthens the abdomen, back, and shoulders. However, for people with cancer it can be challenging to find a swimsuit that works well. In particular, this is a common issue faced by women who have had one or both breasts removed due to breast cancer.

Several bathing suit brands are designed for women treated for breast cancer that have a higher neckline and armholes to conceal scars. What’s more, some brands are designed specifically with 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. These are made from clear silicone and 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 five steps discussed in this podcast can help you to stay healthy and comfortable while enjoying the summer months.

For more information on this coping with cancer, talk with your doctor or visit Cancer.Net is supported by the Conquer Cancer Foundation, which is working to create a world free from the fear of cancer by funding breakthrough research, sharing knowledge with physicians and patients worldwide, and supporting initiatives to ensure that all people have access to high-quality cancer care. Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net podcast.