A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Cancer and cold weather: 5 things patients should know

Two people walking in snow - Cancer and cold weather

Cold weather may present unique challenges to cancer patients.

Winter months are hard on all of us, but the cold can present particular difficulty for cancer patients.

Chemo and cold weather can be a bad combo

“One chemotherapy, Oxaliplatin, is known to cause difficulty breathing if you’re exposed to cold,” said Julene Diedrich, a Marshfield Clinic nurse practitioner in Oncology. “We even tell these patients to avoid cold drinks or ice.”

When patients on Oxaliplatin venture outside, they should bundle up and wear a scarf over their mouth to avoid breathing in frigid air. In general, cancer patients are not more sensitive to cold or heat, unless they are on a medication like Oxaliplatin.

Cancer patients should get their flu shot

Cancer treatments may weaken patients’ immune systems, so it is vital they get their flu shot, Diedrich said. Cancer patients should get the flu shot as opposed to the nasal spray because the nasal spray is a “live virus,” to which cancer patients should not be exposed. People who will be around a cancer patient also should get their flu shot.

“Cancer patients don’t have enough white blood cells to fight off infections. So these patients are more likely to suffer complications from the flu than a healthy person.”

Falls may be more dangerous

Anastrozole is a medication breast cancer patients take, which can decrease bone density. Thus, falls can be more dangerous for patients on this medication. Some patients on this drug are given a bone strengthening medication to combat the bone density side effect.

More potential for frostbite and increased pain

Some cancer treatments cause a condition called peripheral neuropathy, which carries the potential side effect of numbness in the extremities. Patients with peripheral neuropathy are more prone to frostbite because they don’t realize how cold their hands and fingers are getting in cold weather.

Falls also are more likely for patients who have numbness in their feet. In addition to numbness, patients with peripheral neuropathy also can experience pain, which can be intensified by the cold.

Safeguard yourself

It is important that cancer patients take simple precautions in the winter.

“The main thing is asking everyone to be careful outside. Go slow,” Diedrich said. “Stay away from germs. Washing hands is so important.”

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