Cancer Patients May Be at Greater Risk for Sun Damage

Radiation therapy can cause skin to lose some of its natural protective capacity, experts say

TUESDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- During the summer, cancer patients are at greater risk for sun damage and need to be extra vigilant about sun safety, researchers say.

"Cancer patients may be more at risk for sun damage because of their treatment," said Dr. Elizabeth Kvale, director of outpatient supportive care and survivorship in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in a university news release.

"Skin that has been treated with radiation therapy may lose some of its natural protective capacity because of the changes that occur with treatment," she said. "Radiation-exposed skin should be completely protected from sun exposure."

In order to protect their skin from the sun's harmful rays, the UAB experts recommend that cancer patients follow some basic sun-protection guidelines during hot weather, including:

  • Apply sunscreen
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Cover surgical scars (they may darken if exposed to the sun)
  • Wear a hat (this is especially important for patients who have lost their hair)

Skin cancer patients should pay particular attention to the areas of skin being treated, advised the American Society of Clinical Oncologists. Dark, tightly woven fabrics are best for guarding against sun exposure, the group noted.

The UAB experts added that children who have been diagnosed with cancer are among those at greatest risk. "Pediatric cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers should be especially attentive to sun safety," said Kvale, who is also an associate scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Kvale explained that children who experience sunburn have a significantly elevated risk of developing serious skin cancer in the long-term.

The sun's harmful UV rays are not the only reason cancer patients have to exercise caution during the summer. Cancer patients are also more susceptible to heat exhaustion or dehydration since vomiting, diarrhea and nausea are side-effects of cancer treatment. As a result, UAB experts warn that cancer patients should also take the following steps:

  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day
  • Chew on ice chips
  • Avoid beverages with alcohol or caffeine
  • Eat fruits and vegetables with high fluid content

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more tips on sun safety.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: University of Alabama at Birmingham, news release, July 28, 2011.

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