How cancer can affect travel

Many people who have had cancer enjoy travelling without any problems. However, for some people, travelling can be more difficult. For example, cancer and cancer treatments can cause physical effects, including certain side effects and symptoms. 

Some of the effects you may need to consider include:

  • feeling tired (fatigue)
  • having a higher risk of infection
  • being more sensitive to the sun 
  • the long-term effects from treatment
  • the effects of surgery.

These effects may make it more difficult to travel or cause problems when you are away.

Some people with cancer may be advised not to travel by air for particular reasons. 

Your doctor or nurse can advise you on whether this is safe for you.

Having cancer can also increase your risk of a blood clot (sometimes called a deep vein thrombosis or DVT). Travelling, especially flying, also increases the risk of developing a blood clot.

The first thing you should do is talk to your doctor or specialist nurse before you make any plans. They will tell you whether it is safe for you travel.

How cancer can affect travel

Many people who have cancer are able to travel without problems. But for other people, cancer or its treatment may make travelling more difficult. How cancer affects your travels will depend on a number of factors. These include the type of cancer you have and how it is being treated.

Here are some of the main effects that you may need to consider:

  • Cancer and its treatments can have physical effects. These could make it more difficult to travel or could cause problems while you are away. 
  • You may need to take medicines and medical equipment with you.
  • Travel insurance is generally more expensive for people who have cancer.

Planning ahead can help you to avoid many problems. It is important to speak to your doctor or specialist nurse before you make any plans. They can tell you whether the cancer or its treatment could make travelling unsafe. They will tell you how you need to prepare if you do travel and what precautions to take.

We have more information about the different types of cancer and cancer treatments. You can also call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 if you need more support.


Physical effects and travel

Cancer and cancer treatments can cause physical effects, including certain side effects and symptoms which may affect travel. Knowing more about how to manage these can help make travel as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Feeling very tired (fatigue)

Feeling very tired is a common side effect of cancer treatment. It can sometimes continue for months after treatment is over. It can also be an ongoing symptom if you have cancer. Tiredness doesn’t have to stop you travelling. But you will need to think about the amount of activity you can manage and how to pace yourself. Try not to do too many things and make sure you take plenty of time to rest between activities. You can also arrange to have help at airports and train stations. For example, you could arrange to have a wheelchair so you don’t need to walk as much.

Infection risk

Chemotherapy and some targeted therapy drugs increase your risk of infection. If you are thinking about travelling during treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse about your risk of infection. Your risk of getting an infection will be higher at some times than others. Most people are fine a few weeks after treatment is over. However, you should always check with your doctor first.

People who have had intensive treatment, such as a stem cell transplant, are at risk of infection for longer. After the first year, you can usually travel abroad. You will need to talk to your cancer doctor and get advice on vaccinations.

If you are travelling and are still at risk of getting an infection, your doctor may advise you to take antibiotics with you.

Always follow the general advice you have been given to reduce your risk of an infection.

This includes washing your hands regularly, especially before eating. You will also need to be careful about the foods you eat. It is important to be careful about insect bites, as they may become infected. This is especially important if you have lymphoedema. 

Always see a doctor straight away if you think you may have an infection.

Being more sensitive to the sun

Radiotherapy and some cancer drugs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Your cancer doctor or nurse can tell you more about this. It is important to look after your skin by using a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. You should also stay out of sun during the hottest part of the day. This is usually between 11am and 3pm. Try to sit in the shade, even at other times of the day. 

If you have had radiotherapy, it is very important to protect the skin in the treated area.

People who have had a donor stem cell transplant should be very careful about protecting themselves from the sun.

We have tips about taking care in the sun.

I went on holiday in between chemotherapy sessions. My oncologist was happy about this, but made sure I had details of the nearest hospital and knew how to avoid infections.

Jacqui


Long-term effects

Some cancer treatments may cause or increase the risk of long-term physical problems. These include lymphoedema or bladder and bowel changes. Lymphoedema is a swelling caused by a build-up of fluid. It happens when the lymphatic system, which normally drains fluid away, is not working properly. If you have lymphoedema, you may be worried about it becoming worse if you travel. Or you may wonder how you will manage it while you are away. If you are at risk of lymphoedema, you may be concerned about developing it when you travel. There is lots of advice available to help you:

  • manage lymphoedema when you are away
  • reduce your risk of developing lymphoedema.

You should also ask your lymphoedema nurse if you need to take antibiotics with you.

If you have had radiotherapy to the pelvis, or surgery on the bowel or bladder, it may change how your bladder or bowel works. There are things you can do to be prepared. For example, this may include making sure you have anti-diarrhoea tablets or any pads or supplies you need with you.

We have more information about long-term effects and travelling.


Surgery

If you have recently had surgery, your doctor will advise you on whether it is safe to travel or how long you should wait. They can also tell you if there is a type of travel you should avoid. 

After certain operations, such as to the brain, eye, chest or bowel, you will be advised not to fly for a while. This is because surgery may introduce air into the body. Flying can increase pressure and cause pain or stretch a wound. It is very important to follow the advice your doctor gives you. You may also want to check with the airline before you book, as they will have their own rules about flying after surgery.

People who have had their spleen removed (splenectomy) are more at risk of developing an infection. You will need to take certain precautions, especially if you are travelling to an area where there is a risk of malaria. Malaria is a disease spread by mosquitos. It is mainly found in tropical countries, for example in parts of Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Malaria can be especially severe if you have had a splenectomy.

People who have had surgery are more at risk of a blood clot. You may have to delay your travel for a few weeks and follow certain advice to reduce this risk. 

If you are having or have had a urostomy, a colostomy, an ileostomy or a tracheostomy, there may be certain things you need to think about before you travel. Having a stoma does not stop you from travelling, but you will have to think carefully about preparing for your trip. Most hospitals have specially trained nurses, called stoma care nurses. Ask your nurse for advice about travel insurance and certificates, supplies and any dietary issues you may have while you are away. There are also different organisations that can help and support you.

Having a breast removed (mastectomy) does not stop you from travelling. Organisations such as Breast Cancer Care have information about suitable holiday wear, such as swimsuits.


Cancer and air travel

Some people with cancer may be advised not to travel by air. This is usually because oxygen levels and air pressures change at high altitudes. You may be advised not to fly if you:

  • are breathless
  • are anaemic (have a low number of red blood cells)
  • have a low number of platelet cells (that help the blood to clot)
  • are at risk of developing increased pressure or swelling in the brain due to a brain tumour
  • have had some medical procedures, for example to the eye
  • have recently had surgery to your chest, bowel or eye
  • have problems with your ears or sinuses (pressure changes may make symptoms worse).

Always get advice from your cancer doctor or nurse if you are thinking of flying anywhere. They can advise you on whether this is safe for you.


Risk of developing a blood clot

Having cancer increases your risk of a blood clot. Doctors sometimes call this a deep vein thrombosis or DVT. Travelling, especially flying, also increases the risk of developing a blood clot. You are particularly at risk if you sit still for longer periods of time. This could happen when you are on a long-distance flight, or on long bus, train or car journeys. 

Your increase in risk may be linked with the type of cancer you have. Some cancers have a higher risk than others. Your doctor can explain this to you. 

There are other reasons why cancer can increase the risk of a clot. You may be more at risk if the chemicals in your blood that affect clotting are out of balance. Having more blood clotting cells (platelets) than normal can also do this. 

Having had a blood clot in the past is another risk factor. If you have a family history of blood clots, this may also increase the risk.

Cancer treatments that can increase the risk of developing a blood clot include:

  • chemotherapy drugs
  • certain types of hormonal therapy drugs, such as tamoxifen and Stilboestrol® 
  • some targeted therapy drugs
  • recent surgery.

Preventing blood clots

Before you travel, ask your doctor about your risk of a blood clot. They can advise you on precautions you should take. 

Always ask if you should wear compression stockings for travel. If you are going on a longer flight, this is very important as it will reduce your risk of a blood clot. 

Make sure your compression stockings are properly measured and fitted for you. Ask your nurse or a pharmacist for advice.

Here are some other tips:

  • Book an aisle seat, especially on flights, to make it easier to move around.
  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing (especially around the waist and groin).
  • Walk around when you can and move your legs or feet for a few minutes every hour.
  • Drink plenty of water, especially during flights. 
  • Limit your intake of alcoholic drinks or drinks containing caffeine so you do not become dehydrated.

Possible symptoms of a blood clot

It is important to know the possible symptoms of a blood clot. They include:

  • pain, redness and swelling in a leg or arm
  • breathlessness
  • chest pain. 

Always contact a doctor urgently if you have any of these symptoms. This is important as you will need treatment straight away. A blood clot is serious but your doctor can treat it with drugs that thin the blood.

Back to Preparing to travel

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