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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer and Sun Protection

Spending time outdoors can offer many physical, mental, and emotional benefits for anyone going through breast cancer. Enjoying time in nature and getting daily sunlight offers the chance to disconnect from the world, diminish stress and anxiety, and to regroup and refocus. While sunlight is a great source of vitamin D and helps stave off depression, it's crucial to remember the importance of sun protection not just in the summer months but also year-round. It is especially important if you are undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment for cancer.

Many chemotherapy medications and immunotherapies can increase sun sensitivity, also referred to as photosensitivity, which can cause a person to burn more easily than they usually would. Common chemotherapy drugs that have been known to cause photosensitivity include Gemzar (gemcitabine), Adriamycin (doxorubicin), and Taxotere (docetaxel), to name a few. It’s important to avoid sun exposure as much as possible while undergoing chemotherapy, and to continue being cautious up to 2 months post- treatment.

Like chemotherapy, radiation therapy can also make you particularly vulnerable to the sun’s rays. It is very important to recognize that the skin of the area being treated with radiation therapy can have a propensity to burn, and this area can be vulnerable for years after radiation therapy has ended. It is also important to keep the treated area covered as much as possible.

UV-protective clothing and sunscreen.

Some of Laura's favorite UV protective clothing comes from UV Skinz. Rhonda, the Founder of UV Skinz, lost her 32-year-old husband to skin cancer. Because of this disease, Rhonda and her three boys were determined to help families live sun-safe through education and innovative products.

Unprotected sun exposure while receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, can make you more vulnerable to skin cancer as well, including the most serious form of skin cancer: Melanoma. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when cells called melanocytes begin growing uncontrollably. Melanoma can be tricky to spot because it may present itself in many different shapes and colors. The good news is that you can protect yourself by doing regular skin checks and using the ABCDE’s to monitor any areas that may be concerning.

The ABCDE’s stand for:

Asymmetry: If you draw a line halfway through your lesion and the two halves do not match, you should consult your dermatologist

Border: Melanoma borders are usually uneven, scalloped, or notched

Color: Melanoma usually presents itself in multiple colors, meaning that it could have different shades of brown, tan or black. Melanoma can also be shades of blue, white, or red

Diameter: If the diameter of the mole is greater than 6 millimeters, or the size of a pencil eraser, you should get it checked out by your dermatologist

Evolving: Be aware of a spot that is itching, bleeding, crusting, increasing in shape or size, or increasing in elevation

Protecting Yourself

The best way to protect yourself from the sun while receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy is to apply broad spectrum sunscreen, which protects you from UVA and UVB rays. A high SPF sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before venturing outside to allow for the sunscreen to absorb into the skin, and should be reapplied every 80 minutes or after swimming or sweating. The Environmental Working Group has a great guide on some of the best sunscreens with the least harmful chemicals! You should also try to avoid planning your outdoor activities between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, when the UV rays tend to be strongest.

Seeking out shade and wearing long layers will also protect you from the sun’s rays. In addition, wearing a long-brimmed hat can offer protection not just for your face but also for your ears and neck. You can also protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses that block both UVB and UVA rays, which will protect the thin skin around your eyes and reduce the risk of cataracts.

Lastly, avoid tanning beds, especially while undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Studies have shown that your risk of developing skin cancer goes up by 15% for every four tanning bed visits, and your skin is even more vulnerable when you are in treatment. If you are still craving a healthy glow, opt for a store-bought tanning lotion or get a professional spray tan professionally.


Content Across The Web

You may be concerned about the effects of hot weather during and after breast cancer treatment. Breast cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can make skin much more sensitive to the sun.Take care in the sun by covering your skin and wearing a hat. Use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) and avoid the hottest part of the day (11am–3pm).

Very few people realize the correlation between breast cancer and skin cancer. Simply put, the diagnosis of one of these cancers significantly increases the risk of the other. While reasons for the association are not completely understood yet, we know there are amplified risk factors that play a role in the connection. Radiation treatments, hormone changes during therapy, a biological or genetic link, and environmental factors may all play a part in the breast/skin cancer connection. Read More.

Melanoma is a specific kind of skin cancer. It begins in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, the substance that gives your skin color. When melanoma is diagnosed in the early stages, most people respond well to treatment. But when not caught early, it spreads easily to other parts of the body. Read More.

Sunshine feels great — especially after a long, cold winter. Getting some sun is a good way to improve mood, energy level, and sense of optimism. But too much sun exposure can be dangerous. It can cause skin cancer, cataracts, wrinkles, and painful burns that may permanently damage skin. It can also make side effects of some chemotherapy worse. Read More.

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