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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

Sun Exposure With Cancer: Tips To Deal With The Sun & Why You Have To

Written by Dr Shara Cohen on 
17th August, 2021
Updated: 29th January, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Some people love the heat and others loathe it, but whatever you feeling towards a hot sweltering hot sun,  when someone has cancer they need to be careful.

There is no denying that some sun exposure would be beneficial during the cancer journey. Getting outside, breathing fresh air, and going for a can all you feel better emotionally.  But its not cancer (unless its skin cancer) that you need to worry about, its the side effects from the treatments that are the concern when it comes to getting those rays.


Certain forms of chemotherapy can make patients more sensitive to the sun (photosensitivity) and it is important to find out whether your treatment is one that may make you more sensitive,

Which Chemotherapy Drugs Cause Photosensitivity?

Some of the commonly used chemotherapy drugs known to cause photosensitivity include the following, but please talk to your Doctor regarding your regime:

  • 5-FU (fluorouracil)
  • Methotrexate
  • DTIC (dacarbazine)
  • Oncovir (vinblastine)
  • Taxotere (docetaxel)
  • Adriamycin (doxorubicin)
  • VePesid (etoposide)
  • Gemzar (gemcitabine)

This increased sensitivity to the sun does away soon after completing chemotherapy.


With radiation therapy, the regions of your body that are treated with radiation become more sensitive to the sun and this could last  for years after the last treatment is finished.  Sun protection, especially in the tratemnt area, soudl be considerde a long trem goal and wearing sunscreen may not be enough.

The treated area of skin is sensitive so always, when exposed to the sun you should:

If you are having radiotherapy to the head or neck you can try wearing a hat or a dense weave silk or cotton scarf when you go outside. You can also try putting up the collar on your shirt or jacket.

Non Chemotherapy Medcines

ome nonchemotherapy medications that could have an additive effect with chemotherapy in causing sun sensitivity include:

  • Antibiotics, such as Cipro (ciprofloxacin), Levaquin (levofloxacin), tetracycline, doxycycline, and Septra or Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim)
  • Diuretics, such as Lasix (furosemide) and Hydrodiuril (hydrochlorothiazide)
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Cardiac medications, such as diltiazem, quinidine, amiodarone and Procardia (nifedipine)
  • Antidepressants, such as Tofranil (imipramine) and Norpramin (desipramine)
  • Some personalised medicines such as Tamoxifen
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Aleve (naproxen) and Feldene (piroxicam)


Yes; scars from surgery are very sensitive to sunlight. The rest of your skin should be unaffected.

Your scars will be very sensitive to sunlight. Sun exposure can change the pigmentation of your scars and can slow down the skin’s healing process.

At least 1 month post-surgery, and up to 1 year beyond that. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Keep fluids on-hand.Heat can worsen cancer-related fatigue. "Most patients with fatigue, despite the cause, will find symptoms more pronounced in extreme levels of heat," says Monique Williams, adult nurse practitioner at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor. She recommends several strategies to combat fatigue in warm weather:

Cancer Fatigue

  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • Listen to your body. Rest if you feel tired.
  • Try to stay in an air-conditioned space or limit the amount of time you are exposed to heat.
  • Dress appropriately in lightweight clothing.
  • If you have any symptoms such as muscle cramps, trouble breathing, confusion, fever, seizures, nausea, or vomiting, seek medical care immediately.
  • Exercise can help combat fatigue, but recognize your limits. You may not be up to the same strength and activity level that you were used to. Swimming is a good source of light exercise that will keep you cool, help reduce strain on joints, and soothe aching muscles.

Summer and Entertaining

Picnics, pools, and parties are abundant during warmer weather. Picnics and other outdoor parties can be a great chance to visit with friends and family, but your body's reaction to treatments or medications may present challenges when you are not at your own home.

If you are going to an outdoor party or picnic:

  • Call ahead to make sure that shade is available, or bring your own, and stay in the shade as much as possible. Take breaks from the heat and seek air conditioning, especially if you start to feel overheated.
  • Wear lighter colors and fabrics and loosely fitting clothing.
  • Heat can cause or worsen hot flashes. Drink cold beverages and also seek shade and indoors when possible.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid too much alcohol. Try drinking sports drinks like Gatorade or even Pedialyte to replenish your body's electrolytes.
  • Cancer patients may have changes in taste, as well as changes in digestion, says Dr. Naughton. Be prepared for problems such as acid reflux, nausea, and diarrhea by talking to your doctor about what you can do before the party.
  • Be careful of picnic fare. Terri Ades, RN, MS, ACON, Director of Cancer Information with the American Cancer Society, says specifically that low white cell counts from cancer treatment can make a person more susceptible to food-borne bacteria. Make sure food is well-chilled and not left out in the heat.
  • After swimming in a pool, wash off the chlorine right away so that it doesn't dry and irritate your skin.
  • If you have a low white blood cell count, you should avoid public pools and beaches to reduce your risk for infection from water-borne bacteria.

Indulging in warm-weather treats such as ice pops, watermelon, and lemonade can help you stay cool, but Dr. Naughton also says people with cancer, especially those who received more intense therapies, such as stem cell transplants, need to take precautions in terms of fresh fruits and raw vegetables. Because you are at higher risk for infection, fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly and all bruised or broken areas removed before eating. Fruits that grow on vines, such as grapes and berries, should be avoided because mold and bacteria can collect around the stem and cause infection.

How Cancer Patients Can Beat the Heat

If you are being treated for cancer, you are more vulnerable to heat-related problems than you were before treatment. Make every effort to stay cool, and understand that the combination of sunlight, heat, and medications may cause photosensitivity reactions to occur quickly, possibly more quickly than you expect. Being aware of your medications and having a plan in place in case of emergency, whether you are at home or are traveling, can make the warm weather most enjoyable.

  • Avoid mid-day sun exposure: Limit your time outdoors between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM when the sun's rays are most intense.
  • Ask your oncologist which sunscreen she would recommend:Some sunscreens work better than others, and the chemicals in some sunscreens may be irritating to your already sensitive skin. Make sure to select a "broad-spectrum" sunscreen that protects against UVA as well as UVB rays. The sunscreens on the market vary considerably as to whether they provide adequate protection, even for those who aren't at an increased risk from chemotherapy. Current packaging can make it challenging to know what products provide adequate coverage, so check the label to make sure the product contains ingredients that block UVA rays. Make sure you have a fresh bottle of sunscreen as well. Last year’s bottle may no longer be effective.
  • If your skin is very sensitive, you may need to use a sunblock: Instead of or in addition to sunscreen you may wish to use sunblock. Sunblocks that are effective include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Sunblocks are opaque (think: a white nose) and some people hesitate to use these products, but a white nose or face may well be worth avoiding a painful burn.
  • Cover up: Don’t rely on sunscreen alone. Wear wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing to cover sensitive areas of your body. Tightly woven fabrics provide the best protection.
  • Make use of shade:  Find a place in the shade under a tree or sit under an umbrella. Walk along paths sheltered by trees.
  • Don’t forget your lips: Sunscreens designed especially for the lips are generally safe if you should swallow some following application.
  • Don’t forget your eyes: Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Don't forget your head:  We've talked with many cancer survivors who learned about protecting their newly bald and vulnerable scalps the hard way. Wigs can be hot in the sun, but a cotton scarf can be comfortable while providing protection.
  • Avoid tanning beds: Not only can tanning beds leave you with a burn, but can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Keep in mind that you may react differently to the sun while going through chemotherapy than you did in the past. If you were once someone who tanned easily, you may now sunburn.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Use a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (at least SPF 30).
  • Wear clothing made of cotton or natural fibres.
  • Avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm.
  • If you have had radiotherapy, keep the affected area well covered.

Avoid the sun during peak hours

The sun’s rays are strongest from 10am to 3pm. If you can, try to avoid being in direct sunlight during the middle of the day. Instead, schedule your outdoor time for mornings or evenings. If you have to be outside during the “peak period” of sun exposure, make sure you choose a shady spot to relax in.

2. Stay covered up

One of the best ways to protect your skin from sun exposure is to cover up in UV-resistant clothing. Regular clothing can work, too, but keep in mind that not all shirts and beach kaftans are created equal. If they’re too thin, or partially see-through, they won’t block the sun’s rays well enough to protect you.

3. Wear a fun summer hat

A big, wide-brimmed hat is a great way to keep your head, neck and shoulders safe from the sun. If you’re experiencing hair loss, try wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a light headscarf underneath. The cotton will protect your scalp from the itchy straw, and you can tie a lovely tail out the back for some added colour.

4. Apply sunscreen

You should apply sunscreen regularly if you know you’re going to be out in the sun. Some people like to apply it first thing in the morning so that they’re prepared right from the start. Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Plan to reapply your sunscreen regularly – especially after swimming or sweating. Speak with your doctor about suitable sunscreen brands. If you’ve had radiotherapy or have very sensitive skin from cancer treatment, your doctor will be able to help you find a sunscreen that’s good for sensitive skin.

5. Sit in the shade

If you can sit in the shade, you’ll be cooler and less likely to burn. If there’s no shade available where you’ll be going, consider bringing a portable sun umbrella with you, or setting up a tent or sun cover. You’ll be more comfortable and safe from the sun.

6. Stay hydrated

Not only can cancer treatment make the skin sensitive, it can also make you prone to fatigue. Staying hydrated will help to keep you alert and awake in hot weather. Drink lots of liquids, and try eating fresh fruit to keep your fluid levels up. It will also help to keep you cool.

7. Try a Face Spritz

A gentle scalp or face spritz can help to cool down your body and moisturise your skin. You can try making your own at home, or purchase the super-hydrating Defiant Beauty Cool and Refresh Spritz. Here’s an insider tip: keep your spritz in the fridge for extra-cool relief!

8. Wear Light, Cool Clothing

Linen, bamboo and cotton fabrics breathe well and will help to wick away sweat from your body. Choose clothes made from these fabrics, and stick to light colours to stay as cool as possible. Time to break out the beach shirts and sundresses!

9. Take a Quick Dip

A cool shower or quick dip in the pool (if your treatment permits it) will help to lower your body temperature and provide some relief from the heat. If the pool water has chlorine in it, be sure to rinse off after your swim. This will prevent the chlorine from making your skin itchy or dry.  Before using a swimming pool, check with your doctor that it’s safe for you to do so.

10. Sleep With a Cold Pillow

We all know how lovely a cold pillow can feel – especially on a very warm evening. The GelO Cool Pillow Mat can help you to keep your pillow cool all night long. Just chill in the refrigerator and place on your pillow for lasting comfort.

Although you might be more sensitive to the sun than you were before your treatment, you can still enjoy the beautiful summer weather. All it takes is a little bit of preparation.

Further reading

Taking Care While You Are Away: MacMillan 

Understanding Cancer Dehydration

Sun Sensitivity During Chemotherapy

How To Support Someone Going Through Chemo: Easy and Not So Easy Tips

How Chemotherapy Affects Your Skin And What You Can Do About It

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