Sun protection is crucial during, after treatment

Aug. 10, 2017

Smiling woman in a sun hatChemotherapy and radiation can increase your sensitivity to the sun, putting you at risk for burns. Even if you’re not sunbathing, it’s important to take precautions any time you’ll be outside.

 “Chemo and the sun don’t mix,” says Mary Brown, NP, who specializes in geriatric oncology at Wilmot.

During treatment and for months after, chemotherapy will make you much more vulnerable to the sun’s damaging UV rays. Even as little as 10 minutes in the sun without protection can lead to blisters and swelling, Brown says.

Radiation therapy can also make the skin in the area where you were treated more sensitive. Treated areas should not be exposed to direct sun for up to a year after treatment, says Trish Bieck, RN, BSN, OCN.  If you get a sunburn in the area that’s receiving radiation, your treatment may be delayed until your skin heals.

While staying out of the sun offers the best protection, it’s also not always practical or desirable.

So, before you head outdoors, Brown and Bieck offer this advice:

  • Remember that the sun’s rays can be just as damaging on a cloudy day as on a bright, sunny one.
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher with both UVA and UVB protection. You may want to check with your care team for recommendations on sunscreen, especially if you have sensitive skin. No matter which sunscreen you choose, make sure to apply it at least every two hours. If you’ll be in the water or are sweating, you’ll need to apply it more often.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants to protect your arms and legs. Be careful in V-neck shirts, which can easily expose sensitive skin. Clothing made from wicking material, which moves moisture away from your skin, can help you stay cool.
  • Cover your head, especially if you’ve lost your hair to chemo.
  • Protect your ears and the back of your neck, too, with sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Protect your eyes, too, with sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection.