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Chemotherapy - can I dive?

The Big "C"... In previous years a death sentence; today, many people not only survive cancer, but return to their lives. Many remain in long-term remission or are even considered cured. So, the question is - when do I know if I can dive?

There are many considerations when it comes to cancer and diving. The situation should be individualised. Two individuals with the same cancer, treatment, and outcome may not be equally fit to dive.

In general fitness to dive issues are considered at three levels: Neuropsychological issues; Physical Issues and Social Issues.
  • Neuropsychological issues greatly affect the ability to function safely and effectively in the diving environment. Being fully conscious and fully alert are essential. Chemotherapy and certain cancers may affect this - either temporarily or long-term. This is an important consideration. There should also not be an unreasonable risk of sudden incapacitation or loss of consciousness. Depending on which organ or organs are affected, this may vary. Brain, immune system and lung cancers carry the greatest concern. Breast, prostate and skin cancers may have fewer implications, unless they have spread elsewhere. Chemotherapy may cause fatigue, forgetfulness and lethargy weeks after the course is completed. It is best to have a professional dive medical opinion on this.
  • Physical issues may include reduced exercise tolerance and the usual physiological processes such as lowered immunity and impaired blood clotting. These factors may affect divers detrimentally and may even be life-threatening. 
  • Social issues. Initial diving medical assessments for recreational diving are really prompted by the need to lower the liability of the dive training organizations and to provide informed consent to the participating students. After qualifying, though, the onus lies with the respective divers to evaluate their health status - and its changes over time. Many therefore disregard fitness issues completely based on their perceived individual human right to take the risk. The problem is that there is a social implication: A diver who becomes incapacitated jeopardises their buddies and the other divers. At the very least it spoils the day for everyone. At worst, it causes more than one injury or fatality. Diving without being fit to do so is intrinsically selfish. Make sure you consider the safety of others before subjecting them to an unknown risk - you!

When we consider medication and diving, we usually look at the condition, the drug and the impact of diving:
  • Each cancer has its own intrinsic risks.
  • Chemotherapy can cause damage to various organs, including the immune system, skin barrier, heart and lungs.
  • Diving, may expose divers to risks which they may not be able to tolerate in their weakened state.

In short, get expert diving medical advice when considering a return to diving after chemotherapy.

If you have any additional questions, contact DAN via e-mail - medical@dansa.org, or call the hotline on 0800 020111, for more information.
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