Sometimes cancer or its treatment can make travelling complicated. Find out how to prepare and plan for a safe trip.
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Cancer and travelling
Planning for your trip
Cancer and travel insurance
Physical effects of cancer and travelling
Long-term effects of treatment
Travel and coronavirus
About the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
About our information
How we can help
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Many people who have cancer can travel without problems. For others, cancer or its treatment may make travelling more difficult. How cancer affects your travels depends on different things. These include the type of cancer you have and how it is treated.
It is important to get advice before you make any plans or book. You may have questions you want to ask your cancer doctor or specialist nurse. Or you may talk to a GP, practice nurse or travel health professional about your 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 cancer 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 arrange a break in your treatment.
Finding a travel health professional
Some GPs and practice nurses do not offer travel health advice, so ask your practice whether this is available. They can give you advice about other clinics or pharmacies in your area that can help.
The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG) has information about getting advice if you are planning a trip abroad. It explains what care you should expect from a travel health adviser.
Talking to other people about cancer and travel
You can talk to other people affected by cancer about travelling, read blogs about travel or write your own travel blog on our Online Community. You can:
Booklets and resources
Planning ahead can help you avoid problems. We have more information about planning for your trip. This includes:
- what advice you might need before you travel
- information about doctor’s letters and fit-to-fly certificates
- a planning and packing checklist.
You may need vaccinations to protect you from infections 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 some of the vaccinations recommended for your trip. This may affect where you can travel.
We have more information about cancer and travel vaccinations. This includes how to find out what vaccinations you need and how to arrange them.
Travel insurance aims to protect you from losing money if something unexpected happens before or during your trip. It also makes sure you can get emergency medical care if you need it. It is an important thing to think about if you are planning to travel abroad. It can also be useful for some trips in the UK.
Find out more about cancer and buying travel insurance.
Cancer symptoms or the side effects of treatment may affect your travel. Knowing how to manage these can help make your trip safer and more enjoyable.
Some cancer treatments can affect your immune system and increase your risk of infection. These include cancer drug treatments such as chemotherapy, and some types of targeted therapy or immunotherapy.
If you want to travel while having treatment, talk to your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or a travel health professional. They will advise you if and when it is safe to travel.
Your risk of serious problems from an infection may be higher at certain times. For example, you may have a higher risk:
- during treatment
- for a few weeks after finishing treatment
- for up to a year after high-dose chemotherapy for a stem cell or a bone marrow transplant.
Your risk of infection also depends on where you plan to travel. If you want to travel abroad, ask your cancer doctor for advice about your risk of malaria and other diseases that may be common in that area. You may be able to have vaccinations to help protect you from some types of infections in other parts of the world.
If you are travelling while you are still at a higher risk of getting an infection, your doctor may give you antibiotics to take with you.
Always follow the advice you have been given to reduce your risk of an infection.
Fatigue does not have to stop you travelling. But it is important to think about how much activity you can manage and how to pace yourself. Try to plan when you will rest between activities.
You can usually 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.
If you are flying across different time zones, your normal sleep pattern may be affected. This is called jet lag. It can make you feel even more tired. There is no treatment for jet lag. It should improve in a few days as your body adjusts.
For information and tips about managing jet lag, visit nhs.uk/conditions/jet-lag
Being more sensitive to the sun
Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and many other cancer drugs can make your skin and eyes more sensitive to the sun.
It is important to know how to protect yourself in the sun. We have more information about taking care in the sun.
Blood clot risk
Cancer and some cancer treatments increase your risk of developing a blood clot. Travelling also increases the risk of developing a blood clot. Particularly if you sit still for long periods of time during a journey.
Find out more about possible symptoms of a blood clot and how your risk can be managed during travel.
If you have recently had surgery, your doctor will advise you whether it is safe to travel, or how long you should wait before travelling. They can also tell you if there is a type of travel you should avoid.
Remember to tell your travel insurance provider that you have had surgery. Ask them whether this affects your insurance cover.
After some operations, you are advised not to fly for a while. It is important to follow your doctor’s advice.
If you have recently had surgery, you are more at risk of a blood clot. You may have to delay your travel for a few weeks and follow advice to reduce this risk.
If you have had a breast removed (mastectomy), you may be concerned about what to wear on holiday. Organisations such as Breast Cancer Now have information about suitable holiday wear, such as post-surgery swimsuits.
Some cancer treatments can cause long-term effects. These are side effects that do not go away after a few months, or that start months or years after treatment finishes.
We have more information about travelling with long-term side effects. This includes information about travel if you have:
- lymphoedema – this is swelling of a part of the body
- changes to how your bowel or bladder works
- a stoma
- surgery to remove the spleen
- tracheostomy or laryngectomy – this is surgery to remove part, or all, of the voice box.
It is helpful to tell travel companies in advance about any needs you have that could affect your travel. This includes travel agents, airlines, ferry companies and tour operators. It is best to talk to them before you book the trip to make sure the right support will be available.
If you are planning a trip abroad, remember to check the entry requirements of countries you are travelling to. Countries can change their rules for visitors without warning as covid or other infectious outbreaks develop.
Before you travel, check gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for information about current infections and outbreaks in other countries. You can also sign up for email alerts to get updates. For each country, you can check if you need to:
- show proof of covid vaccination
- follow rules about covid testing and quarantine
- wear face masks or follow social distancing rules.
All travel carries some risk of infection. If you have a higher risk of severe infection, you may need to think carefully about this before you decide to travel. Your cancer doctor, GP, practice nurse or a private travel health clinic can help you think through the issues.We have more information about covid and cancer.
Members of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow’s Faculty of Travel Medicine are experts on travel health. They support travel health professionals with education and training. They aim to set high standards for travel medicine healthcare that helps ensure the safety of patients and travellers.
You can find more information on rcpsg.ac.uk
Below is a sample of the sources used in our travel and cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
GOV.UK. Guidance: Disability and travel abroad. Updated June 2019. Available from www.gov.uk/government/publications/disabled-travellers/disability-and-travel-abroad [accessed January 2023].
GOV.UK. The Green Book: Immunisation against infectious disease. Updated November 2020. Available from www.gov.uk/government/collections/immunisation-against-infectious-disease-the-green-book [accessed January 2023].
National Travel Health Network and Centre. Travel Health Pro. Available from travelhealthpro.org.uk [accessed January 2023].
Travel and International Health Team, Public Health Scotland. Fit for Travel. Available from fitfortravel.nhs.uk [accessed January 2023].
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by members of Macmillan’s Centre of Clinical Expertise.
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.
The language we use
We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.
We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:
- use plain English
- explain medical words
- use short sentences
- use illustrations to explain text
- structure the information clearly
- make sure important points are clear.
We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.
You can read more about how we produce our information here.
How we can help
Chat online anonymously to others who understand what you are going through. Our community is available 24/7 and has dedicated forums where you can get advice and ask our experts.