Cancer and travelling

Travelling may help you feel more relaxed and positive if you are affected by cancer. If you are caring for someone with cancer, you may need a break from caring.

Watch our video about travelling after being diagnosed with cancer.

It is important to speak to your doctor, specialist nurse or a travel health professional before you make any plans. They can tell you whether travelling may be unsafe or explain how to prepare and what precautions to take.

If you are still having treatment, your healthcare team may be able to help you plan a safer trip. For example, it may be possible to change your treatment dates or to arrange a break in your treatment.

Planning for your trip

Before you travel, talk to your cancer doctor, specialist nurse, GP, practice nurse or a travel health professional about your plans. There may be some things you will need to plan for, such as:
  • whether it is safe for you to travel
  • managing symptoms or side effects of cancer
  • vaccinations to protect you from infections in some parts of the world
  • taking medicines or medical equipment with you
  • getting a fitness to fly certificate from your doctor to meet an airline’s requirements.

Planning ahead for your trip can help make your trip safer and more enjoyable.


Travel vaccinations

Vaccinations can reduce your risk of getting certain infections. You may need vaccinations before you travel to some parts of the world.

If you have had a particular cancer or treatment, you may not be able to have these vaccinations. This may affect where you can travel. It is important to get advice about vaccinations from your cancer doctor, specialist nurse, GP, practice nurse or a travel health professional.

Find out more about cancer and travel vaccinations.

Cost of travel insurance

Medical treatment abroad can be very expensive. Make sure to take your insurance policy document and helpline number with you when you travel.

We have more information about cancer and buying travel insurance.

Physical effects of cancer and travelling

Tiredness (fatigue)

Feeling very tired is a common side effect of cancer treatment. It can sometimes continue for months after treatment finishes. Tiredness may also be an ongoing symptom of the cancer. Think about how much activity you can manage and how to pace yourself. Try not to do too many things and make sure you rest between activities.

You can arrange help at airports, train stations and on ships. For example, you could arrange to have a wheelchair, so you do not need to walk as much.


Infection risk

Chemotherapy and some targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs can increase your risk of getting an infection. Most people have a lower risk a few weeks after finishing their treatment.

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 and whether you should take antibiotics with you.

Always follow the general advice you have been given to reduce your risk of an infection and see a doctor straight away if you think you may have an infection.

Risk of a blood clot

Travelling, especially flying, can increase the risk of developing a blood clot. This could happen on trips where you sit still for long periods of time, such as a long-distance flight, or on long bus, train or car journeys.

Cancer and some treatments can also increase your risk of a blood clot. Your doctor can explain this to you.

We have more information about preventing blood clot when you are travelling.

Being more sensitive to the sun

Radiotherapy and some other cancer drugs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Protect your skin by using a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and 4 or 5-star UVA protection rating.

You should stay out of sun during the hottest part of the day (between 11am and 3pm). When you are in the sun, you can also protect yourself by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and suitable clothing to cover up. Try to sit in the shade, even at other times of the day.

We have more information about looking after yourself while on holiday.

Long-term effects of treatment

Some cancer treatments can cause or increase the risk of long-term physical problems. These may be side effects that do not go away after a few months or that start months or years after treatment finishes.

Long-term effects of cancer treatment can include the following:

  • Lymphoedema (swelling of a part of the body) caused by surgery or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes (glands).

  • Changes to how your bowel or bladder works because of radiotherapy to the pelvis, or surgery to the bowel or bladder.

You can help manage lymphoedema when travelling by avoiding getting sunburnt, as this can increase the swelling. Before you travel, you can also ask your lymphoedema nurse about taking antibiotics with you when you go abroad.

We have more information about travelling with long-term effects of treatment.

Taking medication with you

Your cancer doctor, specialist nurse, GP, practice nurse, pharmacist or travel clinic can advise you about taking medicines abroad. They can tell you if you need to make any special arrangements. Try to talk to them as early as possible before your trip.

Find out more about taking medication abroad.

Accessible travel

Most travel companies have a medical officer who can help you decide whether it is safe and practical for you to travel. They can be contacted before you leave to help plan your journey or during the trip.

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) also has a checklist for disabled and less mobile travellers that you can fill out and show the travel companies.

Air travel

You can travel with up to two items of mobility equipment free of charge on a plane. This equipment could include a wheelchair or walking frame. This does not count as part of your baggage allowance (the maximum amount of luggage you can take on a plane for free). Contact your airline in advance to explain what equipment you plan to take, and ask if there are any restrictions.

We have more information about cancer and flying.

Rail travel

Many trains in the UK and abroad are wheelchair accessible. Check with train companies in advance about whether particular train lines and stations are suitable for your needs.

In England, Scotland and Wales, the Disabled Persons Railcard entitles people with mobility needs to cheaper rail fares. Similar travel discounts may be available in some other countries.

In the UK, National Rail runs a Passenger Assist scheme. You can book help at any station for any train journey. Call them for free on 0800 022 3720 (Textphone 0845 605 0699) and give details of your planned journey, 24 hours before you travel. You can check if a UK railway station has accessible facilities on the National Rail website.

Sea travel

If you are travelling by ship from the UK or Europe, you have a legal right to free help if you have mobility needs. Let the carrier, travel agent or tour operator know your needs when you book, or at least 48 hours before you travel.

Always tell a cruise line or ferry service if you need to travel with a carer. On a ferry, your carer may be able to travel for free.

Most modern cruise ships have disabled-access cabins. But places may be limited, and it is a good idea to book early.

Parking and driving abroad

In the UK, the Blue Badge scheme generally allows you to park for free in restricted areas if you have severe mobility problems. The Blue Badge is also recognised in some other European countries, but the rules differ between countries.

It is important to check in advance where you can park and for how long. You can find out more about the Blue Badge and other driving schemes and concessions in the UK from your local council.

The AA and RAC have information about driving in different countries.

Travel and coronavirus

It is important that you continue to follow the latest government advice and restrictions for coronavirus. This includes guidance about travel within the UK and abroad. You can find the latest advice at GOV.UK

We have more information about cancer and coronavirus.

About our information

References


Reviewers

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.