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How Can I Enjoy the Sun Safely During Lung Cancer Treatment?


Updated June 02, 2011

How can you protect yourself from the sun during lung cancer treatment? Lung cancer treatments can make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure, but we all know how good it feels to get out in the sun. Safe sun exposure may even benefit those living with lung cancer. What treatments can make you more susceptible to the burning rays of the sun, and how can you enjoy the sun safely when you are going through chemotherapy or radiation therapy?

What Lung Cancer Treatments Can Increase Sun Sensitivity?

Some chemotherapy medications can cause an increased sensitivity to the sun (photosensitivity) during treatment. Thankfully, this side effect goes away soon after you have completed your treatments. Any chemotherapy medication (as well as medications such as some antibiotics) can increase your sensitivity to the sun. A few more common ones include:

  • Docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
  • Etoposide (VePesid)
  • Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • Vinblastine (Oncovir)

Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy can cause your skin to be more sensitive to the burning rays of the sun. This sensitivity is primarily in the regions directly affected by radiation -– with lung cancer the chest –- and can stay for years following your last treatment.

Are There Benefits From Sun Exposure During Cancer Treatment?

Intuitively it seems that sun exposure would be a good thing during cancer treatment. Getting outside and breathing fresh air. Taking a walk (exercise is linked with improved survival). The medical research seems to back that intuition. Higher vitamin D levels are correlated with improved survival for those with early stage lung cancer, and may be the reason that people who have lung cancer surgery during the summer months seem to fair better.

Tips for Safe Sun Exposure During Lung Cancer Treatment

Remembering to pack the sunscreen is important, but a few other tips can help you protect your skin as you head out the door:
  • Cover up
    Wearing a hat and protective clothing can shelter you from some of the sun’s rays. Loose-fitting, tightly woven fabrics provide the best protection.

  • Make use of shade
    Find a shady spot to sit down, or a path sheltered by trees to walk on. Shade significantly decreases your exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. If you can’t find shade, provide your own with an umbrella or a wide-brimmed hat.

  • Avoid excess mid-day sun exposure
    Limit your time outside between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun’s rays are much more intense.

  • Choose your sunscreen wisely
    Select a “broad coverage” sunscreen that protects against UVA rays as well as UVB rays. Some sunscreens contain ingredients that can irritate your skin. Ask your oncologist what sunscreen she would recommend. If your skin is very sensitive, sun blocks (such as zinc oxide) may offer the best protection.

  • Avoid tanning beds
    There is no such thing as a safe tan. Both natural and artificial sunlight can cause sunburns (especially when you are being treated for cancer), and long-term exposure to both forms of UV light can raise your risk of developing skin cancer.

  • Don’t forget your head
    I have talked with many cancer survivors who have learned about sun protection for their heads the hard way. Loss of hair from chemotherapy can make your once-protected scalp now very vulnerable. Cover up with a hat, scarf, or wig, or remember to reapply sunscreen frequently.


National Cancer Institute. Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects. Skin and Nail Changes. 11/24/08. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/chemo-side-effects/skin-and-nail

Zhou, W. et al. Circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels predict survival in early-stage non-small-cell lung cancer patients. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2007. 25(5):479-85.

Zhou, W. et al. Vitamin D is associated with improved survival in early-stage non-small cell lung cancer patients. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention. 2007. 14(10):2303-9.

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