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How to beat the heat: summer safety for cancer patients

How to beat the heat: summer safety for cancer patients

Our temperatures can stay in the 90s for much of the summer. What can you do to stay safe in the heat when you’re undergoing cancer treatment? Here’s what you should know about summer safety for cancer patients.

The hot days of a Louisiana summer leave all of us yearning for the cool comfort of an air-conditioned space. No one wants to stay inside all the time, though, so you need to know how to stay safe. Read on for a few tips for handling the heat from our Touro team.

How heat, humidity and the sun impact cancer patients

Summer offers a trifecta of dangers for those undergoing cancer treatment. Weather during the summer months brings high temperatures, humid conditions and intense sunlight.

Those conditions cause an increased risk of heat-related illnesses for everyone, but they’re especially dangerous for those undergoing cancer treatment. There are a few reasons for that:

  • Staying hydrated can be a challenge for cancer patients, who may find it difficult to eat or drink. Being in the heat increases the risk of dehydration even more.
  • Both chemotherapy and radiation can increase the risk of skin toxicity when the skin is exposed to the sun. With skin more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, sun exposure can quickly lead to sunburn.
  • Cancer patients often have weakened immune systems, which increases the risk of infections of all kinds. Anything from bacteria in warm waters to undercooked food at a barbecue can lead to illness.

Being at an increased risk of these health hazards doesn’t mean you have to stay inside all summer long. Taking precautions can help you enjoy the summer safely!

Steps you can take to stay safe and healthy during summer

When you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you have plenty on your mind and on your plate. Let us put your mind at ease with a few tips for summer safety:

  • Drink plenty of water. Don’t drink only when you feel thirsty! By the time you experience thirst, your body may already be slightly dehydrated. Carry along a bottle of cold water, especially when you go outside, and sip from it often.
  • Practice sun safety. Because your skin is extra sensitive to the sun, take your sunscreen use up a notch this summer. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and apply to all exposed skin before going outside. Reapply at least every two hours.
  • Use your outfit to protect your skin. You can also protect your skin (and keep your body cooler) with light-colored, loose clothing or choose protective clothing containing UPF, which is the clothing equivalent of SPF. Top your outfit with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes, ears, nose and scalp.
  • Take special care to avoid infection. We don’t think about it often, but there are potential causes of infection all around us! It’s a good idea to steer clear of open, warm waters during treatment, since bacteria can live in fresh or seawater. Also be careful about food safety, taking special care to make sure foods are cooked thoroughly, eaten immediately after cooking and then stored properly.
  • Choose your outdoor time carefully. The sun’s rays and the heat are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so plan to spend time outside in the early morning or evening instead. You can also use the UV index as a guide, staying indoors on days when the UV index rises into the “very high” or “extreme” categories.

In addition to these tips, pay close attention to any side effects you have from treatment. At your oncology appointments, your providers will keep a close eye on your blood cell counts and offer advice on when to restrict activities as well as steps you can take to stay safe.

Have questions about cancer treatment or staying healthy? Touro’s cancer care team is here to walk with you every step of the way.