Summer Heat & Mesothelioma Chemotherapy Don’t Mix

Couple relaxing on the beach

In late June, I experienced camping in the great outdoors for the first time in my life.

My family and I headed to Pulaski County Park in Nancy, Kentucky. I woke up every day before dawn and watched the sun rise over beautiful Lake Cumberland. Temperatures were in the upper 80s.

The serenity at the camp and the warmth reminded me of how much my father loved watching the sunrise and spending time outdoors. After Dad’s mesothelioma diagnosis, he found himself having plenty of time away from work.

Family cookouts and sunning himself at the pool distracted him from his chemotherapy treatments, but the amount of sun and heat worried us because his oncologist said my father’s medications made him more susceptible to heat-related emergencies and sunburn.

Anyone undergoing chemotherapy for mesothelioma should ask their specialist if too much time under the sun could harm them. It’s important to learn if your medications increase your photosensitivity, which is an immune system reaction triggered by sunlight.

Learn about the symptoms and warning signs of too much heat or sunlight exposure before it’s too late.

Photosensitivity and other Concerns for Cancer Patients

The Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of New Mexico explains that people undergoing chemotherapy who become photosensitive may sunburn more easily than others.

“A sunburn that you got within a week before chemotherapy may reappear, or rarely, a sunburn may spread to skin that was not exposed to the sun,” the university’s website shows.

These chemotherapy drugs may increase photosensitivity:

  • Dacarbazine
  • Fluorouracil
  • Methotrexate
  • Vinblastine

Symptoms of a photosensitive reaction to the skin may include:

  • Redness
  • Inflammation of exposed areas
  • Blisters
  • Weeping patches of skin exposed to the sun
  • Peeling

There are several treatment options, including topical creams and lotions, for people who have a painful reaction to sun exposure. Over-the-counter pain medications may be necessary, but it is best to consult your doctor to find the right treatment option for you.

Heat Exposure: Don’t Over Do It

Spending too much time outdoors in oppressive summer weather conditions can exacerbate symptoms of fatigue.

Mesothelioma patients already are familiar with the fatigue commonly associated with the cancer.

Coupling fatigue with heat exposure can lead to an emergency situation much faster for those battling mesothelioma and other forms of cancer.

Warning Signs of Heat-Induced Illness:

  • Muscle pain and cramps
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Increased body temperature
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you find yourself or your loved one experiencing these symptoms while spending time outdoors, it is best to seek immediate medical treatment.

Mesothelioma and the Summer Heat

Because of these reactions, it isn’t uncommon for mesothelioma specialists to caution their patients about taking too much sun.

During the summer of 1993, a doctor advised my father about recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion and offered tips to avoid severe sunburn.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network also provides cancer patients recommendations on how to stay safe, while still enjoying the outdoors.

Use Sunscreen

Ask your doctor which brand of sun protection would be most beneficial for your skin type. A minimum SPF of 30 offers some protection from the sun, but if you are extremely photosensitive, higher strength SPF and more frequent applications may be necessary.

Protect Your Head

Wearing a hat with a wide brim can protect your head and face from the sun, especially if you’ve just lost your hair because of chemotherapy.

Light-Colored Clothing

Lighter colors reflect sunlight, while darker colors absorb it. You may also opt for looser fitting clothes that allow your body heat to escape.

Take Frequent Breaks

Taking a break from the heat and sun by going indoors where there is air conditioningcan offer respite.

Stay in the Shade

If you are planning a trip to the beach, do not forget to bring a large umbrella. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shaded areas can be up to 25 degrees cooler than areas in full sun. Also, spend less time outdoors between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. because that’s when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Hydrating your body is paramount to avoid dehydration. The heat can quickly deplete the water your body needs to function.

Lessons Learned

During our recent camping trip, my daughter’s face became sunburned. I could almost hear my father advising me to reapply her sunblock more frequently.

After finding out the hard way that tanning his hairless head was not a good idea, Dad always wore sunscreen.

Although my father didn’t adhere to every piece of summer safety advice his oncologist offered, he learned that taking special care allowed him to enjoy making memories in the warm summer weather.

  1. University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center. (n.d.). Photosensitivity. Retrieved from http://cancer.unm.edu/cancer/cancer-info/cancer-treatment/side-effects-of-cancer-treatment/less-common-side-effects/skin-reactions/photosensitivity/
  2. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. (n.d.). Take Precautions During Cancer Treatment in Warmer Weather. Retrieved from https://www.nccn.org/patients/resources/life_with_cancer/managing_symptoms/summer_precautions.aspx
  3. U.S. Department of Energy. (n.d.). Landscaping for Shade. Retrieved from http://www.energy.gov/energysaver/landscaping-shade

Melanie is currently pursuing a Master's degree at the University of the Cumberlands. She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Phoenix. Her father was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1992. She is dedicated to writing about her unique experience with the rare disease.

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