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Sun, skin and cancer treatment


If you鈥檙e having, or have had cancer treatment, you may be advised to avoid direct sunlight on skin. 

Find out more about the cancer treatments which can cause sun sensitivity. We鈥檒l provide tips to manage being in the sun whilst protecting your skin.

Sunshine and cancer treatment

If you鈥檙e having, or have had cancer treatment, you may be advised to avoid direct sunlight on skin. This can feel disappointing, when sunshine for many of us gives a lift in mood, and helps the body make vitamin D. 

Sometimes people can develop photosensitivity, which is when your skin becomes more sensitive to the sun鈥檚 ultraviolet rays. It can be brought on by certain medications and medical conditions. 

Treatments that can cause photosensitivity include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, certain antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and some anti-sickness medications.

Everyone鈥檚 response to sunlight after treatment is different, but even if you normally tolerate sunlight well, you may be at risk now.

Your healthcare team should advise you which of your treatments may cause UV sensitivity, and how to take care of your skin. 

Chemotherapy

The effects of the chemotherapy can make you sensitive to sunlight during your treatment and for a couple of months after your treatment has finished. 

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy can cause skin sensitivity, so protect any radiated areas in particular. This may be the case for the first few years post radiotherapy treatment.  Occasionally your skin sensitivity may be permanent.  It's advisable to cover the area with loose clothing, or wear a high factor sunscreen.

Lymphoedema

Anyone who has developed lymphoedema following cancer treatment will have been advised by their clinical team to avoid getting sunburnt or insect bites on the affected limb. It can cause inflammation (swelling) and infection.  Find out more in our  lymphoedema section

Tips for going out in the sun

Whilst you have to be more careful in sunshine with cancer treatments, it doesn't mean you have to avoid it altogether. Simple precautions can help you enjoy sunny days whilst protecting your skin: 

  • The sun is at its hottest and fiercest between about 10am and 3pm, so it is best to avoid being out in the sun between these times. Ultraviolet light can also be present on cloudy days, so additional care may be needed.
  • Be aware of the contents of some sunscreens. It should be at least SPF 30. Some sunscreens work better than others, and the chemicals in some sunscreens may be irritating to your already sensitive skin. Dispose of last year鈥檚 bottle or tube of sunscreen, as older sunscreen loses its beneficial effects.
  • You can鈥檛 rely on sunscreen alone - wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing helps, so that the sensitive areas of your body are covered. This is particularly important if you鈥檙e by the sea and beach. If you鈥檝e experienced hair loss, a scarf under your hat can help protect your sensitive scalp.
  • There are sunblocks available - these can be effective. Check with your oncologist or specialist nurse which products they have found to be safest to wear when on chemo. Also protect your lips - there are sunscreens specially for them.
  • Find a place in the shade under a tree or sit under an umbrella. 
  • The sun can be a strain on your eyes - if you can, wear sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Drink plenty of fluids - this can help keep you hydrated and cool.
  • Swimming pools with chlorine can cause sensitivity - if you do have a swim, have a shower afterwards. Some people having cancer treatment may be advised not to swim during treatment, so check with your healthcare team.
  • Avoid perfume and chemical products - these can make your skin more sensitive.

If you would like more help, support and information about the treatments which may cause photosensitivity, you can drop into your local 惭补驳驳颈别鈥檚 at any time, or read up information here in our blogs and useful links.

When to seek further help

If you get sunburnt or develop blisters or a rash from the sun, get in touch with your GP and cancer care team. You may need antibiotics to protect you from developing an infection.


Last review: Jan 2022 | Next review: Sep 2023

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