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Sun Safety for Summer

Sun Safety for Summer

Cancer survivors should take precautions while outdoors and actively try to protect their skin from ultraviolet rays (UV) exposure, which can damage your skin and can potentially cause skin cancer; if you are receiving chemotherapy or immunotherapy medications to treat cancer, then you need to minimize  UV exposure because some of these agents can increase your risk for skin sensitivity (sunburn) to sunlight which is called “photosensitivity.”  

These medications can absorb large amounts of UV light, which will change the drug's chemical composition, leading to skin damage from exposure. Some of the worst offenders for causing photosensitivity are 5-FU (fluorouracil), DTIC (dacarbazine), Oncovir (vinblastine), Taxotere (docetaxel), Adriamycin (doxorubicin),VePesid (etoposide), and Gemzar (gemcitabine).  

While receiving these agents, it is important to remember skin safety, especially if you receive Benadryl as a premedication, because it can increase the risk of photosensitivity. Luckily, this increased sensitivity to the sun goes away soon after completing chemotherapy.  

Radiation therapy can also put you at an increased risk of developing photosensitivity. With radiation therapy, a tendency to burn occurs mainly in the regions of your body treated with radiation. Still, unlike that with chemotherapy, a predisposition to burning may last for years after your last treatment is finished. If you have had radiation therapy, you must have a plan to protect your skin from the sun beyond just your last day of treatment. 

Photosensitivity reactions can occur immediately after sun exposure or may not be evident for several hours after returning indoors. It can take several hours before the full extent of a sunburn can be realized.  

Sun exposure has benefits, such as helping you feel better emotionally, and it can increase your vitamin D levels. However, it is essential to enjoy the sun safely, so we will discuss some sun safety tips to protect your skin while outdoors. 

Tips for Sun Safety from the American Cancer Society: 

Use Sunscreen every day. Make sure to read labels and that it has broad-spectrum protection (against both UVA and UVB rays) and sun protection factor (SPF) values of 30 or higher. This should not be your only form of protection because sunscreen is just a filter—it does not block all UV rays. Sunscreen should not be used to prolong your time in the sun. Even with proper sunscreen use, some UV rays still get through. 

Wear clothing that covers your skin, such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or long skirts. These cover most skin and are the most protective against various levels of UV exposure. Dark colors provide more protection than light colors, and tightly woven clothing protects better than loosely woven clothing.  

Be aware that covering up doesn’t block out all UV rays. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too. Many companies now make lightweight, comfortable clothing that protects against UV rays even when wet. It tends to be more tightly woven, and some have special coatings to help absorb UV rays. These sun-protective clothes may have a label listing the UV protection factor (UPF) value (the level of protection the garment provides from the sun’s UV rays on a scale from 15 to 50+). The higher the UPF, the higher the protection from UV rays. 

Wear hats that can minimize your sun exposure. A hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim is ideal because it protects areas often exposed to intense sun, such as the ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp. A baseball cap protects the front and top of the head but not the neck or the ears, where skin cancers commonly develop. If you don’t have a shade cap (or another good hat), you can make one by wearing a large handkerchief or bandana under a baseball cap. 

Wear sunglasses that block UV rays. UV-blocking sunglasses are essential for protecting the delicate skin around the eyes and the eyes themselves. Ideally, sunglasses should block 99% to 100% UVA and UVB rays. Before you buy, check the label to make sure they do. Labels that say “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” mean the glasses block at least 99% of UV rays. Those labeled “cosmetic” block about 70% of UV rays. Don’t assume the sunglasses provide UV protection if there is no label. 

Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps. Tanning lamps give out UVA and usually UVB rays as well. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause long-term skin damage and can contribute to skin cancer. Tanning bed use has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if used before age 30. Most skin doctors and health organizations recommend not using tanning beds and sun lamps. If you want a tan, one option is to use a sunless tanning lotion, which can provide a darker look without danger. 

Seek shade while outside. Avoid direct sunlight to minimize exposure. This is particularly important between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV light is strongest. If you aren't sure how intense the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest, and it is important to protect yourself. 

Resources for this article: 

American Cancer Society. (2019). How do I protect myself from ultraviolet (UV) rays?  

Eldridge, Lynne. (2022). Sun sensitivity during chemotherapy tips for avoiding sunburn during chemotherapy and radiation.,Adriamycin%20%28doxorubicin%29%207%20VePesid%20%28etoposide%29%208%20Gemzar%20%28gemcitabine%29