Travelling with a long-term treatment effect

If you have a long-term treatment effect, you will still be able to travel. Planning ahead will help you manage any problems while away.

People with lymphoedema may find that travelling makes their symptoms worse. To help ease them:

  • wear loose clothing
  • move around often when travelling
  • protect against insect bites
  • avoid sun burn
  • keep your skin clean.

If you have had your spleen removed (splenectomy), you may be more likely to get infections. Before you travel, your doctor should give you antibiotics and explain when you may need to take them. It is also recommended that you get vaccinated against pneumonia and meningitis. If possible, you should avoid travelling to areas where malaria is common.

If you have a urostomy, a colostomy, an ileostomy or a tracheostomy, make sure you take enough stoma supplies with you.

If you have problems with your bladder or bowels, take any supplies you may need, such as wet wipes and pads. We have a toilet card which may help you get access to a toilet more quickly when you are out.

If you have lymphoedema

You may worry that your lymphoedema could get worse if you travel. If you are at risk of getting lymphoedema, you may worry that travelling might trigger it. But by planning ahead and preparing, you should be able to manage any problems and enjoy your time away.

It is important to carry on with your usual routine for looking after your affected limb. But there are other things you need to be careful about when travelling.

Before you go

If you have a lymphoedema specialist, talk to them about your travel plans before you go. You may find the following tips useful to help you plan ahead:

  • If you need any vaccinations before your holiday, it is important not to have any injections in the affected limb.
  • If you are planning a more active holiday, talk to your lymphoedema specialist before you go. They can advise you how to plan your trip so you don’t put too much stress on the affected area.
  • If you are flying a long distance and have lymphoedema, your specialist may recommend wearing a compression garment. You will need to wear it for a few hours before the flight, during the flight and for a few hours after.
  • Any increased swelling you might notice during the flight should go down afterwards.
  • Keeping your affected limb moving when flying is important. Ask your lymphoedema specialist what exercises might help before you go away. When booking your flight, you may want to ask your airline for an aisle seat, so you have more room to move the affected limb.
  • Ask your GP or lymphoedema specialist to give you some antibiotics. This is in case you develop cellulitis while you are away. It can be helpful for your lymphoedema specialist to speak with your GP about this.
  • Make sure you pack an anti-septic cream. This is in case you get a cut, scratch or bite on the affected limb.
  • Pack an insect repellent spray or cream. You need repellent containing at least 50% DEET (diethyl-m-toluamide). DEET is the main ingredient that makes insect repellent work. Your pharmacist or travel health clinic can give you advice on which one might be best.
  • If you are taking any prescription drugs with you, make sure you have enough to last and have a letter from your doctor with you.
  • Make sure you have travel insurance.

During your journey

Here are some tips on how you can reduce your risk of getting lymphoedema when you are travelling:

  • Avoid sitting in one position during the whole journey.
  • When you travel on a plane or train, move around a lot and do gentle stretching exercises.
  • During longer car journeys, stop regularly and get out and walk around.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and shoes.
  • Wear flight socks that fit well. Your GP or specialist nurse can give you advice if you cannot find a pair that fit.
  • Use a suitcase with wheels – this can be easier than carrying a heavy bag.

While you are away

There are things you can do to help with lymphoedema when you are away:

  • If you have lymphoedema in your leg, do not walk barefoot on a beach or around a swimming pool. This reduces the risk of cuts and possible infection in your foot.
  • Do not get sunburnt as this can increase swelling. If you are in a hot climate, it is important to wear suncream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of 50.
  • Sit in the shade or cover the affected area with a hat, long-sleeved shirt or loose trousers.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Sea salt and chlorine make the skin extra dry. If you go swimming, you should shower afterwards and put moisturiser on. Swimming or even just moving around in water is very good for lymphoedema. You do not need to wear a compression garment while swimming, because the water will create enough pressure.
  • Avoid saunas and hot baths. Keep the affected limb as cool as possible.
  • Avoid lifting and pulling heavy bags with your affected arm. Ask someone to help.
  • If you start to get signs of an infection, let a doctor know straight away. Signs of an infection could include flu-like symptoms, a high temperature, redness, rash or heat in the affected limb, or increased swelling. If you have antibiotics with you, start taking them as soon as possible.

You can also contact the Lymphoedema Support Network, which has a more detailed guide on holidays and travel for people with lymphoedema.

The Lymphoedema Support Network can also give you a card that explains you have lymphoedema, in case you have an accident or need medical care.


If you have had your spleen removed

If you have had your spleen removed (splenectomy), you may be more likely to get some types of infection. You will need to take low-dose antibiotics for the rest of your life. Your doctor will discuss this with you.

Before travelling, your doctor should give you a supply of antibiotics and explain when you may need to take them. They may also suggest that you get vaccinated against pneumonia and meningitis.

Malaria

Malaria is a disease spread by mosquitos. The symptoms are similar to flu and can include:

  • a high temperature
  • a headache
  • being sick.

Malaria can be especially severe if you have had your spleen removed. If possible, you should avoid travelling to areas where malaria is common. Malaria is a risk in many tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. This includes part of sub-Saharan Africa, South America, South Asia and the Pacific region. Talk to your doctor before you arrange to go to these areas. You could also speak to a private travel health service, such as MASTA.

If you decide to travel to these areas, you should try to avoid infection using the ABCD of malaria prevention:

  • Awareness of risk – Find out how common malaria is where you are travelling. Think carefully about activities that may put you more at risk, such as hiking.
  • Bite prevention – Use insect repellents, cover your arms and legs with suitable clothing and use mosquito nets if necessary.
  • Check whether you need to take anti-malarial tablets. If you do, make sure you take the right tablets and the right amount. Anti-malarial tablets do not give you complete protection.
  • If you have symptoms, quick Diagnosis and treatment are important. Get medical help as soon as possible.

You can get more information about vaccinations and travel health from the NHS website or by contacting MASTA.


If you have a stoma

If you have a stoma (opening on your tummy), such as a urostomy, colostomy, or an ileostomy, you will need to think about certain things before you travel. People with an opening in their windpipe to breathe through (tracheostomy) will also have to prepare before going away.

Having a stoma doesn’t have to stop you from travelling, but you may need to plan your trip more carefully.

Getting information

Your stoma nurse can give you advice about issues such as:

  • your diet while you are abroad
  • activities like swimming
  • how high temperatures can affect the glue used to secure the stoma bags.

If you have a urostomy, colostomy, an ileostomy or a tracheostomy, there are specialist organisations that can give you information specific to your condition. 

Stoma supplies

Having a stoma should not stop you from travelling, but you may need to plan your trip more carefully. It is important to make sure you have enough stoma supplies with you and that they are spread between all items of your luggage.

It helps to take more than you may need, in case you need to change your appliance more often than usual or you are away for longer than planned. This is especially important if you are going somewhere with a hot climate. 

Some stoma suppliers will deliver abroad. It is helpful to check whether your supplier offers this service. You should store stoma bags in a cool place, away from direct sunlight.

Colostomy and ileostomy

If you have had a colostomy or an ileostomy, it is important to be careful about what you eat the day before you travel. 

Avoid spicy foods, fizzy drinks, alcohol and foods that cause wind. If you are travelling on a plane, the changes in air pressure may cause increased wind in the stoma bag. It may help to add an extra flatus filter, which helps wind to escape.

Your GP or stoma nurse can give you advice on medicines you can take if you have diarrhoea, for example anti-diarrhoea tablets (such as loperamide) and rehydration powders (such as Dioralyte®). These can be bought in a chemist or prescribed by your GP. If the diarrhoea is severe or continues for more than 48 hours, it is important to see a doctor.

Insurance and travel certificates

A travel certificate includes details of your condition so you do not have to explain it to travel officials, including airport security staff. The certificate will include your name, address and passport number, and it will be signed by your doctor.

People with ileostomies can get a travel certificate by contacting IA (The Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Support Group). You can ask for translated certificates in a variety of languages. The Colostomy Association and Urostomy Association can also provide travel certificates in many different languages. Your stoma care nurse should also be able to give you a travel certificate. 

These support organisations can give you advice on travel insurance to make sure you are properly covered for your condition.


If you have bowel or bladder problems

Some people affected by cancer have problems with their bowel or bladder. This may mean you need to pass wee (urine) or poo (stools) urgently or more often. These problems may be temporary or long-term, and can be due to treatment or the cancer itself. If you have bowel or bladder problems, you will need to be close to a toilet and this can affect your travel plans.

Access to toilets

When you are booking any type of travel, try to book an aisle seat that is close to a toilet. This will make it easier for you during the journey. It is also a good idea to have a bag of hand luggage with some supplies.

If you are travelling to an area or country you are not familiar with, it is a good idea to find out more about the toilet facilities there. They may be very different to what you would expect in the UK. Having bowel or bladder problems should not stop you from travelling and enjoying your holiday, but planning ahead will help.

If you are travelling in the UK, many towns and counties keep lists or maps about the public toilets in the area. These are often on local authority (council) websites. To find out what is available, try searching online for ‘public toilets’ and the name of the place you plan to visit.

We can send you a toilet card, which may help you get access to a toilet more quickly when you are out in public. The card explains that you have a medical condition and need urgent access to a toilet. It can be used in places such as shops and pubs. You can order the card online or by calling us on 0808 808 00 00.

You can use disabled toilets too. These often offer more privacy, have a wash basin and more space if you need to change.

Take supplies with you

Pack a bag of the things you may need when travelling. This will help you feel more confident.

You may want to include:

  • wet wipes or baby wipes
  • barrier cream (cream used to protect the skin from damage or infection) such as Cavilon® or Sudocrem®
  • pads and pants
  • a change of clothing
  • a sealable bag.

If you have bladder problems, you might find it helpful to take a portable urinal with you.

Talk to your cancer nurse or specialist for advice on travelling and ask whether any medicines, such as anti-diarrhoea tablets, may be helpful for you.

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.

Planning your trip

Planning ahead can help you avoid problems when travelling. Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse about your plans.