Winter can be hard for many people, but for cancer patients, slippery streets, and cold weather are more than a hazard, they can also be a health risk. Learn how cold weather affects cancer patients and how they can stay safe during the winter.

Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a condition where the human body begins to lose heat faster than it can produce it, causing the body temperature to become dangerously low. Side effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue, dehydration, and anemia, can make patients more susceptible to hypothermia.

Frostbite
Some treatments can cause peripheral neuropathy, which carries numbness in the extremities as a potential side effect. Patients who have peripheral neuropathy are more likely to get frostbite since they can’t feel how cold their fingers and hands are in cold weather.

Falls
Patients can have a higher risk of fracture if they are receiving treatments that affect bone density. Cancer patients need to be especially careful if they have thrombocytopenia, a condition associated with blood cancers that cause low platelet counts. Since platelets help blood clot, a low count can mean that bruising or serious bleeding can happen when injured.

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Patients who have numbness in their feet (neuropathy) are also more prone to falls.

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Flu
Cancer therapy may weaken patients’ immune systems. It is necessary that they get their flu shot since they don’t have enough white blood cells to fight infections. This is why cancer patients have a higher chance of having complications from the flu than a healthy person.

Tips to Stay Safe
Follow these tips to protect your health or a loved one in winter and stay safe:

  • Stay inside as much as you can when temperatures are freezing or when low temperatures are accompanied by rain or high winds.
  • Make sure your walkways are always cleared of ice and snow.
  • If you need to go outside, make sure to bundle up in layers. Put on a hat that covers your ears, especially if therapy has caused you to lose your hair. Wear heavy gloves, thick socks, and warm boots with good treads.
  • Protect your skin. Therapy can make your skin itchy, dry and cracked, especially when the humidity level drops. Use lip balm and moisturizers regularly and avoid long, hot showers and baths. Consider getting a humidifier.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of non-caffeinated liquids regularly.

If you’d rather avoid winter and the risks it carries for cancer patients, you can always consider health tourism. It’s the practice of traveling to a popular tourist destination with the purpose of receiving therapeutic treatment. For example, Florida has mild, pleasant winters, which make it an ideal location for “health tourism!”

Winter won’t last forever, even if you sometimes feel that way, so celebrate each sunny day!

More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists at Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.

Featured image: Winter. Photo courtesy: © 2020 Pixabay/Ina Hoekstra (Heerenveen, The Netherlands)

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Jack Steel, MD, FACRO, is a board-certified Radiation Oncologist with more than 20 years of brachytherapy experience. He has performed over 4,000 prostate seed implant procedures. Additionally, Steel has extensive training in all areas of cancer treatment including lung cancer, head and neck cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer, and GI Malignancies. Steel was instrumental in establishing prostate seed implant programs in numerous hospitals and surgery centers in Tampa, Brandon, Sun City Center, Plant City, and Bradenton, FL. Steel is the author and principal investigator of a research project entitled “Combined Modality Therapy Treatment (Triple Therapy) for Unfavorable Early Stage Prostate Cancer.” The study is funded via two unconditional grants sponsored by TAP Pharmaceuticals, and Schering Laboratory Corporation. He graduated summa cum laude from Northern Michigan University and received his medical degree in 1985 from Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan. Steel completed his residency program at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, where he was Chief Resident, and subsequently became an assistant professor at the University of Southern California. Steel then served three years with the United States Air Force as Chief of Radiation Oncology at Keesler Medical Center in Biloxi, Mississippi before entering private practice in Florida in 1993. Steel is a member of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiation and Oncology; the American College of Radiation Oncology; the American College of Radiology; the Florida Radiological Society; the Radiosurgery Society (RSS); the Florida Medical Association; and the Hillsborough County Medical Association.