Cancer-Fighting Lifestyle

Winter & Cancer: An Unusual Connection

Winter Cancer An Unusual Connection

Winter is the season when we are most susceptible to illness and colds. This is because our immune system weakens, which makes us more vulnerable to infections. A person with cancer should be acutely aware of the winter’s inherent health risks because they are more likely to suffer from these ailments than people without cancer.

Flus & Colds

The flu is already a potent public health risk, but the stakes are higher for cancer patients whose immune systems can be weakened by radiation and chemotherapy. An ordinarily three-day flu could magnify into a much more dangerous threat for cancer sufferers. The patient, family members, and primary caregivers should all get their yearly flu shot and make a point of frequently washing their hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water.

Winter Blues

Technically, this condition is called “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD) and is a type of depression commonly striking in winter. Attributed to a lack of activity and reduction to sunlight, SAD can make the mental state of cancer patients, already fragile, much worse. Symptoms are numerous and intermingled: lethargy, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, suicidal thoughts, loss of interest in activities, social withdrawal, sleep and appetite problems, difficulty concentrating and in decision-making, decreased libido, or agitation.

Cancer patients are urged to keep active during winter, and Vitamin D supplements are recommended. However, the body makes Vitamin D naturally when exposed to the sun; in lieu of supplements, taking a 15-minute walk in sunlight, even in winter, can alleviate SAD symptoms.

The Chills

Several cancer therapies interfere with how the body regulates its temperature due to dehydration. This makes cancer patients more sensitive to cold and more susceptible to conditions such as hypothermia (where the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees) and frostbite (where the skin freezes). Both conditions, while rare, are extremely dangerous and can kill. Symptoms of hypothermia include profound shivering, slurred speech, weak pulse, shallow breathing, loss of coordination, and drowsiness; frostbite is identified by an initial whitening of the skin, particularly in the fingertips and ears, before the skin turns black due to loss of blood and cell death. In severe cases of frostbite, amputation is the only treatment. Cancer sufferers are reminded to keep warm and dress in layers during winter.

Winter Itch

A type of eczema exacerbated by cold, winter itch is a perennial annoyance for healthy people and cancer patients alike. As the humidity drops during winter, skin can turn dry, itchy, or even cracked and rubbed raw from scratching. These symptoms can become far more pronounced for patients on chemotherapy. Staying out of cold temperatures is wise, but drinking fluids, liberal use of moisturizers, avoidance of harsh soaps and detergents, and use of a home humidifier are all recommended for cancer patients during winter.

As millions of people continue to battle cancer, AFCR is committed to supporting research in the lab to help prevent, early detect, treat and cure cancer. Donate to support our work here.