Many deaths have long been attributed to the cold weather, making the winter season the deadliest time of the year. From slips and falls to hypothermia, many risks make this weather extra challenging for all.
But while some can get through the cold by simply cuddling up or sipping a cup of hot tea, the same is not the case for people diagnosed with serious medical conditions, such as cancer. With all the aggressive treatments they undergo, they are more susceptible to weather-related risks and diseases. Hence, they need to exercise more precautions than usual.
If you have cancer or know someone who has been diagnosed with the disease, it is essential to understand how one can prepare for the freezing days ahead. For your guide, here are the risks cancer patients need to be vigilant about and the tips for avoiding them during this season. Read on.
How does winter affect cancer patients?
Winter weather brings a lot of possible risks to cancer patients. Among these include:
Hypothermia refers to a medical condition where your body temperature drops dangerously. This happens when your body loses heat more than it produces.
Generally, almost everyone is at risk of getting hypothermia during the cold season. However, people diagnosed with cancer have a higher risk of developing the said disease.
Some cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, can cause fatigue, anemia, and dehydration in patients. All these factors contribute to making their bodies more sensitive to the cold. As a result, their body temperature may drop quicker than normal when exposed to cold weather, leading to hypothermia.
Frostbite is a type of skin injury that happens due to prolonged exposure to extreme cold. Specifically, when one gets frostbite, the affected skin freezes, and the tissues underneath become damaged. Patients who experience frostbite will first exhibit whitened skin in the ears and fingertips. Eventually, the affected areas will turn black due to blood loss and their cells dying.
Similar to hypothermia, the risk of developing frostbite is higher when one is dehydrated. This is because the brain needs enough liquid to regulate body temperature effectively. Since many cancer treatments cause dehydration, patients are also more vulnerable to frostbite.
Some cancer treatments may also cause nerve damage outside the spine of the brain, called peripheral neuropathy. This condition makes patients experience numbness in their extremities. As a result, they run a higher risk of getting frostbites because they cannot feel how cold their bodies are already.
Complications from flu cases
The winter weather is almost synonymous with the flu season. As the temperature grows cold and the air becomes less humid, viruses spread faster. Hence, people become more susceptible to getting the flu. However, while healthy folks usually get over this kind of infection within a week, the same is not the case for most people with cancer.
Some treatments for cancer, such as radiation therapy, can weaken their immune system. As a result, viruses can stay longer in their bodies, and serious complications from the flu, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and sepsis, may arise.
Higher risks of falling
The winter season makes everything cold and slippery. Naturally, these conditions expose people to possible slips, trips, and falls. For some, they might be lucky enough to end up with only a few bruises or minor cuts. However, things are different for cancer patients—slipping, and tripping can be fatal to their health. This is because most cancer treatments affect the patients’ bone density. In effect, cancer patients run a higher risk of getting a fracture.
Particularly, those with thrombocytopenia—or the condition with blood cancers where platelet counts are low—need to be extra careful during the snowy weather. They have a low platelet count that makes it difficult for their blood to clot, which is why they experience bruising and bleeding when they become injured.
According to the National Cancer Institute, depression affects about 15% to 25% of cancer patients.
During the winter season, a type of depression called a seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, becomes more rampant. This condition is also caused by receiving less sunlight and having fewer physical activities. SAD can worsen a cancer patient’s already-fragile mental state.
Symptoms include the following:
- Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities
- Trouble sleeping and eating
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
- Decreased libido
Does winter affect cancer growth and metastasizing?
Aside from the effects discussed above, there are also studies about how cooler climates can speed up cancer growth. According to a study by Kathleen M. Kokolus and their team, cancer in mice has spread faster in a cold environment. Their experiment on animal study suggests that T cells, which are an essential part of the immune system and help fight cancer, are more effective in a warm setting.
Tips for avoiding winter-related risks for cancer patients
As we near colder-than-ever days, we must be prepared to take measures to prevent the risks discussed above. Here are the things you need to do:
- Bundle up nicely – be sure to dress up in warm layers. Do not forget to cover your nose and mouth with a scarf, especially when you need to go out.
- Wear a hat and gloves – these are protection for your ears and fingers against the cold.
- Wear good shoes and boots – wear shoes or boots that are safe enough to prevent you from slipping on ice.
- Clear walkways – ice and snow can cause falls and slips
- Walk carefully – the rule of thumb is to walk like a penguin. Maintain balance by keeping your arms at the sides. Walk slowly and take short, flat-footed steps.
- Stay hydrated – Dehydration is one of your enemies during winter.
- Use humidifiers – plug-in humidifiers in your room to lessen the draft in the air.
- Take a flu shot – have more resistance against the flu and take flu shots.
- Keep your activity – stay active even during the winter season and exercise accordingly
- Take Vitamin D supplements or take walks under the sunlight during mornings – avoid SAD and boost your vitamin D.
Schedule a consultation with New Hope Unlimited
Keeping cancer patients safe and healthy is a must for their therapy and survival of the disease. However, these treatments can also be the primary causes of malnutrition and a low immune system to fight the disease. New Hope Unlimited has options for an alternative medicine program to help cancer patients. It focuses on keeping the body healthy and boosting the immune system for patients to fight the disease. Its anti-tumor protocols through detoxification aim to destroy cancer cells and flush out cancer waste. Call New Hope Unlimited today to know your options.