Planning your trip

It is important to check with your doctor or specialist nurse whether it is safe for you to travel. You can talk to them about your plans and get advice.

It may be useful to ask your GP for a written summary of your diagnosis and treatment. 

You can show this summary to healthcare providers abroad, if you become ill. Some travel insurance providers may need to see this summary to check you are fit to travel.

Vaccinations help reduce your chances of getting infections on holiday. The types you need depend on your destination.

Vaccines are either:

  • live (containing tiny amounts of live virus or bacteria)
  • inactivated.

If you have a weak immune system, you should not have live vaccines. This may be the case if you have recently had cancer treatment, a transplant or are taking immunosuppressive medicines (drugs that weaken the immune system).

If you have had high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, you may need to be re-vaccinated after your treatment has ended.

Ask your cancer specialist for advice on the vaccinations you need.

Talking to your doctor or specialist nurse

Before you travel, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse about your plans. They can give you advice about:

  • whether it is safe for you to travel
  • vaccinations
  • taking medicines abroad
  • any issues you need to think about because of the cancer type, treatment or side effects.

Taking a doctor’s letter

It may be helpful to ask your GP for a written summary of your diagnosis and treatment. You can take this with you and show it to healthcare providers abroad if you become ill. Some travel insurance providers may ask for a doctor’s letter to show you are fit to travel.

You may be able to look up translations of some of the key phrases on the notes, such as the cancer type or treatment, and write these down next to them. But only do this if you are certain the translation is correct.

You will need a letter from your GP or oncology team before taking some medicines abroad.


Getting vaccinations

Your GP or a private travel health clinic can help arrange vaccinations for you. Vaccinations can reduce your chance of getting certain infections. If you have had a particular type of cancer or cancer treatment, some vaccinations may not be suitable for you. This may mean you will not be able to travel to some parts of the world.

Live vaccines

Live vaccines use small amounts of the live virus or bacteria. The virus or bacteria used in these types of vaccines have been changed, so they do not cause the infection. The vaccines encourage the immune system to develop white blood cells (antibodies) to protect against the infection. If you have a weak immune system, you should not have live vaccines. 

Your immune system may be weakened if you:

  • are having, or have recently had, chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • have had an organ transplant or bone marrow transplant
  • are taking, or have recently taken, high doses of steroids or immunosuppressive medicines (drugs that weaken the immune system).

You can have live vaccines after completing immunosuppressive treatments, but you will need to speak to your cancer specialist first. You may need to get a letter from your specialist to confirm that you can have live vaccinations.

Live vaccines include:

  • MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
  • oral typhoid
  • yellow fever.

Some people may need to avoid live vaccines for the rest of their lives. This includes people who have had a lymphoma or leukaemia, or if their cancer is related to HIV infection.

Inactivated vaccines

Inactivated vaccines are safe after cancer treatment, but they may be less effective in people who have low immunity. If you are having chemotherapy, you should ask your cancer specialist when you should have any vaccinations. Inactivated vaccines include:

  • diphtheria, tetanus and polio
  • hepatitis A
  • hepatitis B
  • influenza
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • meningococcal meningitis
  • pneumococcal (pneumonia)
  • typhoid injection
  • tick-borne encephalitis
  • rabies.

Re-vaccination

If you have had high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, you may not be immune to diseases you were previously vaccinated against. You may need to be re-vaccinated after your treatment has ended.

The vaccinations you may need for your holiday will depend on where you are going. If you have lymphoedema in an arm, or are at risk of developing it due to breast cancer surgery or radiotherapy to an armpit, it is important to have vaccinations in the other arm.


Planning checklist

You can use the checklist below to make sure you are prepared before your trip. 

For all travellers

  • Have you spoken to your doctor or specialist nurse?
  • Are you fit to travel safely?
  • Will you need a travel companion or helper to go with you?
  • Will you need any special equipment?
  • Have you let the travel company and your accommodation know about any particular needs?
  • Do you need any particular vaccinations for your destination? 
  • Have you got enough medicines or medical supplies for the whole time you will be away? Remember to take extra supplies, in case your return is delayed.
  • Do you have your passport and another form of proof that you are a UK resident, such as a driver’s licence? 
  • Do you have your travel insurance policy and certificate?
  • Have you packed all your medical supplies or equipment in your hand luggage, so you can have easy access to them?

If you are travelling to a European Economic Area country or to Switzerland

  • Do you have your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?

If you are travelling with medicines for more than three months

  • Do you need or have a personal medicines licence?

If you have severe mobility problems

  • Do you have your Blue Badge, if you think you will need it?

If you have a stoma

  • Does your accommodation have a private bathroom, including facilities to dispose of appliances, if you think you will need this?

Back to Preparing to travel

The benefits of travel

You might be thinking about travelling since being diagnosed with cancer. Some grants can help towards the cost of holidays.