Taking care in the sun when you have cancer
During and after treatment, it‘s very important to protect your skin from the sun.
Some cancer treatments can make your skin more sensitive to damage from the sun. This can be temporary or permanent. How sensitive your skin is to the sun will also depend on the type and dose of your treatment.
If you’ve had chemotherapy
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Some chemotherapy drugs can make your skin more sensitive. This can sometimes last for several years following treatment. If you’ve had chemotherapy, you can ask your doctor whether you need to take special care to protect your skin.
Some people also find that their skin is sensitive to chemicals such as chlorine, and may need to avoid swimming in pools that have been treated with chlorine.
If you’ve had radiotherapy
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The skin in the area that was treated by radiotherapy will stay sensitive for many years. You should take extra care to protect it from sun exposure.
You don’t need to avoid the sun completely, but it’s good to start with going out into the sun only for very short periods. If this causes no problems, you can gradually increase the time you spend in the sun.
If you’ve had radiotherapy to the whole body, the dose given is very low and shouldn’t cause a problem with sun exposure. But it’s helpful to check with your doctors before spending time in the sun.
Tips for protecting yourself in the sun
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Following the advice below will help ensure that your skin doesn’t burn:
Protect your face and neck with a wide-brimmed hat and always wear sunglasses (with a guaranteed ultraviolet light filter) in strong sunlight.
Use a suncream with a high sun protection factor (SPF 15-30). Follow the instructions on the bottle and reapply as recommended, particularly after swimming.
Wear clothing made of cotton or natural fibres, as these have a closer weave and offer more protection from the sun. As the SPF of different fabrics varies, it’s possible you may need to use some of the other types of protection as well as covering up with clothing.
Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, usually between 11am and 3pm. Try to sit in the shade, even at other times of the day.
If you’ve had radiotherapy, keep the treated area completely covered.
Use fake tanning lotions or sprays to give yourself a tan, instead of sunbathing or using a sun-bed.
Over exposure to the sun is a risk factor for some cancers. If you're concerned, you can find out more about skin cancer and melanoma.