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Can I swim if I have NSCLC?

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shot of a senior woman swimming outdoors in the ocean

If you’re going through treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), your physical health and overall quality of life will most likely be affected. To help combat some of the side effects of treatment like fatigue, anxiety, and stress, exercise can improve your health.

No matter what form of exercise you choose, make sure you start slow and speak with your care team before you engage. It’s important you don’t hurt or overexert yourself in any way even if you were previously active before treatment.

Swimming can benefit your cardiovascular health, but if you’re going through cancer treatment there are factors at hand that can be harmful to your health in both the short and long term. So make sure you keep these rules and recommendations in mind: 

Do not swim during chemotherapy treatment.

Your immune system weakens when you’re going through chemotherapy, decreasing your chances of fighting off infection. Pools can be breeding grounds for bacteria, so avoid exercising in the water (including saltwater) until you’re finished with treatment and get cleared by your doctor.

Remember, you might also experience neuropathy in your extremities during chemotherapy, so you might also have trouble gripping things (the side of the pool, a float) in the pool as well.

Do not swim during radiation treatment.

If you’re going through radiation for NSCLC, you might experience skin irritation or itching as a side effect, which can be made worse by chemicals typically used to clean a pool. 

Don’t swim during radiation without consulting your doctor first. If you’re given the go-ahead, make sure to thoroughly rinse off afterward and apply sunscreen at all times if you’re outside. 

According to the Skin Care Foundation, you should wear a water-resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 or higher outdoors. Remember to reapply it every 40 – 80 minutes because it wears off in the water. 

Also, consider wearing a bathing cap to keep chemicals out and to feel more comfortable if you’re experiencing hair loss from your treatment.

If you’ve had surgery for NSCLC, do not swim without consulting your doctor first. 

If you’ve recently had surgery as part of your treatment for NSCLC, you’re going to have a wound of some sort that will need to heal. While swimming can alleviate joint pain or muscle stiffness, it’s vital that you speak to your doctor and allow your wound to heal.

Your NSCLC diagnosis and treatment directly affect your lungs, so breathing may become more difficult. By practicing breathing exercises, you can improve your lung capacity and move a little bit easier. Make sure to talk to your care team before starting a new exercise routine and take it slowly.

For more suggestions on adopting a new exercise regimen, check out our blog 4 tips for how to exercise during lung cancer treatment.

If you have additional questions about your exercise regimen or you’d like to speak with someone, you can connect with an Outcomes4Me oncology nurse practitioner at no charge through the Outcomes4Me app, using the “Ask Outcomes4Me” button.

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