pic of the word cancer

Advice on dressing for cancer treatment


Annmarie O’Connor

The proverbial clothes may not make the man, but the right ones make life a lot easier, especially when undergoing cancer treatment.  Chemo- and radiotherapy have surprisingly specific dress codes: loose breathable skin-friendly fabrics that can be layered; button-down shirts or deep V-necks to access central port lines; draping to cover tubes, elastic waistbands to accommodate weight loss or bloating and shoulder pads to hold away fabric from the body. Ask any patient who’s had to endure the prosaic reality of Port-A-Cath, PICC and CVC lines; skin irritations, fluctuating body temperatures and hair loss, often for months and years at a time. The struggle, folks, is real. Although not exactly the language of high fashion, some sartorial TLC might just be what the doctor ordered, especially when treatment gets tough. Here’s what you can expect.

Loosen up

Although every person reacts differently to treatment, loose clothing is a practical consideration that unites the cancer experience. Make port access easier by opting for button-down, deep V-neck or scoop neck shirts with handy pockets or discreet armbands (careandwear.com). Avoid clothing with clips or pins that can puncture the line. Think seam-free and wire-free bras with wide straps and a Velcro ‘hook and look’ front closures or camisole tops with stretchy built-in bras. As post-treatment skin can be sensitive, look to details like drawstring or elasticated waistbands, angel wing arms, wide-leg bottoms in feelgood fabrics which are insulating, breathable, lightweight and quick-drying.

Top tip: Tencel (also known as lyocell) fabric is soft, antimicrobial, antibacterial, hyper-allergenic, anti-static (doesn’t cling) and absorbs perspiration at a rate of 50% more than cotton.

Look to layers

Body heat fluctuations is a common chemo occurrence, depending on the drugs. Be sure to take extra layers of clothing, a scarf and a blanket should you feel the chill. Choose insulating, lightweight fabrics that won’t irritate or put pressure on the skin like fleece or Alpaca. The latter is hyper-allergenic (lanolin-free), softer than goose down, finer than cashmere and warmer than wool which is key for anyone with radiation dermatitis or those undergoing cold-capping – the placement of sub-zero ice caps on the scalp to preserve hair.

Top tip: Layering is most important pre-treatment as keeping warm makes it easier to find a vein.

Keep cosy

For cancer patients, the impetus to stay snug is not just a physical asset but a mindset that can aid in the recovery process. Not in the mood to get dressed? Indulge yourself with luxe pyjamas or the more flexible sub-category – loungewear (PJs in disguise!). Invest in quality sheets with a high thread count, memory foam pillows and cushioned mattress covers to keep you feeling at ease when rest time beckons. In fact, make your bedroom a personal comfort zone with restorative accessories like an aromatherapy diffuser and a soothing Spotify playlist to reduce stress and create a healthy healing environment.

Top tip: Temperature-sensitive bamboo fabric is the kingpin for bedding and bedclothes. Its moisture-wicking properties help keep the body dry during night sweats and cold sweats; plus, it keeps the body warm when it is cold and cold when it is hot. 

Laya Healthcare Members can find out more about the cancer care we offer by visiting https://www.layahealthcare.ie/yourbenefits/cancercare/ or download our handy guide https://www.layahealthcare.ie/media/site/pdfs/Cancer-Care-Laya-Healthcare.pdf 

To support the tremendous work of Breakthrough Cancer Research to develop new treatments for cancer go to: www.breakthroughcancerresearch.ie

Photo by Hush Naidou coursesy of Unsplash media.


Ann Marie O’Connor

Annmarie is an award-winning fashion writer, stylist and founder of The Happy Closet - a lifestyle decluttering service which balances well-being with being well-dressed. Her editorial and styling work has appeared in publications such as the Irish Examiner, Sunday Times Style magazine, The Irish Times, Irish Tatler, Image and The Gloss. On air she is a regular contributor to The Dave Fanning Show, The Ryan Tubridy Show; TV3′s Xposé, Ireland AM and RTÉ’s Today show.