A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Cancer survivors, be extra careful in the sun

Woman with large sun hat sitting outside - Concerns about sun exposure after cancer

General precautions for sun protection still apply and are especially important for cancer survivors. Sun sensitivity can last a month or two after completing chemotherapy.

If you have had any type of cancer, practice precaution when you’re out in the sun this summer.

That’s the word from Dr. Sueyi Lai, a Marshfield Clinic oncologist/hematologist.

“I talk about this with all my patients, particularly as they undergo chemotherapy,” she said. “This treatment makes skin more sensitive to the sun and this sun sensitivity can last even a month or two after completing chemotherapy.”

“Sun-sense” advice the same

The same precautions dermatologists stress to people generally especially apply to cancer patients and survivors.

Avoid tanning beds and practice common sense.

When in sunlight, wear a wide-brimmed hat; use sunscreen with a skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and re-apply it when under prolonged sun exposure; and don’t use tanning beds or lights.

“I cannot stress that enough,” Lai said of tanning beds. “Please avoid them completely. There is no safe amount of indoor tanning and the ‘pre-vacation’ indoor tan is neither a safe nor recommended approach to sun safety. That can’t be emphasized enough.”

Radiation recall can occur.

Radiation therapy can also cause radiation recall, where areas exposed to radiation in the past can become inflamed, red and tender. Your skin “recalls” where radiation beams were directed.

Avoid risk taking, like drinking and smoking.

“In general, once you’ve had a primary cancer, you are at risk for another cancer in addition to being at risk for recurrence of the primary tumor,” Lai said. “You are more at risk than a person who’s never had cancer, so we advise patients to take general preventive measures like being current on cancer screenings, colonoscopy or pap smear for example; using sunscreen when in the sun and avoiding risk factors for cancer such as smoking or excessive use of alcohol.

Risk takers, like chronic smokers and drinkers, are also more likely to develop cancer because of their exposure to chemicals and toxins, like cancers of the aero-digestive tract which is in direct contact to the toxins.

“I have seen many patients who are chronic smokers who present with head and neck cancer and get treated successfully for it, but continue smoking and develop a second cancer like lung cancer,” Lai said. “This is not uncommon. The key is to educate the public on cancer prevention measures by making the right lifestyle decisions.”

For cancer help, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

Find a Cancer Care & Research provider Learn more about Cancer Care & Research

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