Summertime Tips for Cancer Patients

Sunglasses, sun hat, and seashells on a light blue background

Take precautions during treatment to ensure a safe and healthy summer

If you or someone you love is living with cancer, the heat, sun, and outside activities can present challenges and trigger side effects of treatment. It’s important to take extra precautions to stay safe. You don’t have to give up your favorite summertime activities if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Avoid Excess Sun Exposure: Certain forms of chemotherapy and radiation make patients more sensitive to the sun. Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it often, especially after sweating or swimming. Use a sunscreen free of dyes and perfumes, for sensitive skin, or ask your health care provider for recommendations. If you've lost your hair due to chemo, wear a hat or use a sun umbrella.

Stay Hydrated: Drink cold water and iced beverages throughout the day to stay hydrated. However, make sure to avoid drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine, as they can trigger hot flashes and cause dehydration. You can also get water from vegetables and fruits. Cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, bok choy, zucchini, squash, cauliflower and bell peppers are all more than 90% water. Grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, peaches, blackberries, nectarines, pineapple and oranges are 86-91% water.

Wear Lightweight Wigs: Buy a wig that fits your summer lifestyle. It might help to cut your hair short or shave your head while your hair is falling out to stay cool and ensure a better wig fit. Also, consider wearing a lightweight, synthetic wig during the hot summer months or a lightweight headscarf. Call the Resource Center for Patients & Families for more information about Roswell Park’s wig and head covering program, 716-845-8659.

Swim with Caution: Chemotherapy and radiation can cause skin sensitivity that reacts to chemicals such as chlorine. In addition, hot tubs, saunas and other communal baths are generally not recommended for immunosuppressed patients because bacteria and other microorganisms thrive in warm water. If you’ve had breast cancer surgery, companies like Amoena make bathing suits designed just for you.

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Fight Fatigue: Heat can worsen cancer-related fatigue. Try to stay in an air-conditioned space or limit the amount of time you are exposed to heat. If you’re outside, drink cold beverages and seek shade when possible.

Garden with Gloves: Routine flower and vegetable gardening is permissible using some infection precautions. Wear gloves when touching dirt and soil and wash your hands immediately after. If you’re walking through areas where soil, dust and fungal spores are found in the air, consider wearing a mask. (If you have had cellular therapy or a stem cell transplant, follow the instructions you received about when it will be safe for you to do gardening.)

Before you partake in any summer activity or travel, talk with your doctor about proper safety precautions, and the best options during your cancer care.