- Question from Spatengirl: How long after chemotherapy do you have to avoid the sun? And why do you have to avoid the sun—what does it do to you?
Maria Theodoulou, M.D.
Many of the chemotherapy agents that we use are also radio-sensitizers, which means they can make the sun's rays work a lot stronger than they would if one were not exposed to any chemotherapy drugs. Certainly during the treatment with chemotherapy, we always ask that the patient avoid direct exposure to the sun as much as they can to avoid burning of the skin. If it's a summer day, it doesn't mean you have to stay in the house or avoid the outdoors, but a sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher, a floppy hat in the summer, or a cover-up if walking on the beach.
The effects of chemotherapy drugs can last for 1 to 2 months after the chemotherapy has been completed. By that time, most of the drug has been used by the body and is out of the system, so it should be safe to go in the sun. Of course, if the patient is going to have radiation after the chemotherapy, the patient should also protect the radiated area as there can be a phenomenon called "radiation recall." Not only can the affected skin burn, but skin on other parts of the body can become more sensitive as well.
One of the most important things a patient can do is not only protect themselves from the sun's rays during treatment and at least a month afterwards, but importantly in hot weather, one also has to be careful about becoming dehydrated. It's important to keep fluid intake optimal, making sure that not only is water being taken in, but also fluids with different salts in them too. The effects on the skin and on all of the healthy organs can be protected that way.
- Tamara Shulman, Ph.D., FAACP Another approach to enjoying vacations is to be creative and think of alternatives to being out in the sun. For example, instead of a typical Friday night movie, go to one in the middle of the day to avoid the strongest sun's rays. Reading a book in the shade is also a lovely way to relax. So do whatever you would enjoy to give you an enjoyable vacation that won't leave you out in the sun.
- Maria Theodoulou, M.D. The time of the day that one goes out into the sun is also very important. The sun's rays that one is exposed to in the early morning are much weaker than those in the noon or early afternoon hours. The late afternoon and early evening can be rewarding with less concern for burning and "being on one's best behavior" to avoid side effects. There's no reason to avoid a summer day completely if one uses good judgment with an optimistic spirit. You can walk along the beach at 9 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. A dinner picnic with the family can be fun too, so you won't feel you're missing that afternoon barbeque.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. That's why it's so nice that the summer days are long, so you can enjoy sunlight into the evening.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Summertime Issues: Treatment and Personal Care featured Maria Theodoulou, M.D., Tamara Shulman, Ph.D., and moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about the various summertime issues that relate to breast cancer treatment and personal care.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in June 2005.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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