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Navigating the Depths Post-Chemotherapy: An Diver’s Guide


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Scuba Diver Underwater © Francisco Jesus Navarro Hernandez Unsplash

I am a certified open-water diver and a cancer survivor. To facilitate repeat chemotherapy, surgeons installed a port just under the skin in the upper chest area below the clavicle. I finished chemotherapy five months ago, and the cancer has been dormant for the past several months. What concerns or limitations should I consider before returning to diving? 

With regard to your port, if everything has healed and there are no complications, you should be able to return to diving if you are otherwise healthy and fit for the rigors of the sport. These ports are typically filled with fluid and are therefore noncompressible at depth, so in that regard diving should not be a concern. Several different manufacturers make the ports, however, so we recommend asking your oncologist to check with your device’s manufacturer for pressure ratings or depth restrictions.

If your doctors have released you for full, unrestricted activity, you should be able to return to diving without complication. Given that it has been some time since you were last in the water, however, we recommend completing a graded exercise program and a refresher course to help you get ready to safely dive.

I was born about two months premature. Retinopathy of prematurity was the main complication, and I had oxygen, cryotherapy, and scleral buckles as treatment. I want to take up diving. Is there anything I should be concerned about?

No studies that we are aware of suggest that diving is contraindicated in individuals who have had retinopathy of prematurity. It is important to ensure that at least two months have passed since the surgery and that there is no iatrogenic gas bubble in your eye — retinal surgeons sometimes inject those to facilitate healing after surgery.

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They remain present for varying lengths of time, depending on the gas the surgeon uses. Residual gas in the eye is an absolute contraindication to diving. It sounds as though none of these considerations apply in your case.

Retinopathy is the primary concern for diving. If your field of vision is greatly affected, this could lead to you being unable to read gauges or properly respond to a situation requiring urgent attention. A diver should be able to do the following:

  • Read gauges showing air pressure, depth, dive time, and decompression requirements
  • Locate and navigate entry and exit points
  • Read a compass
  • Locate and recognize their buddy We recommend you share your intentions for diving with your ophthalmologist as part of getting medical clearance to dive.

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This article was originally published in Scuba Diver UK #70.

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