How important is sun protection while having cancer treatment?

During and after cancer treatment, it is very important to protect your skin from the sun regardless of your age, or race.

Some cancer treatments can make your skin more sensitive to damage from the sun. This side effect may 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 have had chemotherapy

If you have had chemotherapy, ask your doctor whether you need to take special care to protect your skin.

You may also find that your skin is sensitive to chemicals such as chlorine and may need to avoid swimming in pools that have been treated with chlorine.

If you have had radiotherapy

The skin in the area that was treated by radiotherapy will be 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 is advisable to go out into the sun only for very short periods of time. If you are comfortable, you can gradually increase the time you spend in the sun.

If you have had radiotherapy to the whole body, the dose given is very low and should not cause a problem with sun exposure. However, it is advisable to check with your doctors before spending time in the sun.

Tips for protecting yourself in the sun 

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 suntan lotion 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 is 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 period of the day, usually between 11am and 3pm. Try to sit in the shade, even at other times of the day.

• If you have had radiotherapy, keep the treated area completely covered.

• Use tanning lotions or sprays to give yourself a tan, instead of sunbathing or using a sunbed.

• Do not forget to apply sun care to you head, should you have lost your hair.

Over exposure to the sun is a risk factor for some cancers. If you are concerned, find out more about skin cancer and melanoma.