Cancer and travel vaccinations

Vaccinations can reduce your risk of getting certain infections while travelling. Find out more about having travel vaccinations if you are affected by cancer.

Do I need to be vaccinated to travel and when?

Your GP, practice nurse or a travel health professional can explain what travel vaccinations you need and how to arrange them. If possible, you should speak to them at least 8 weeks before you are going to travel. Some vaccines must be given in advance, so they work as well as possible. Other vaccines involve having a few doses spread over several weeks or months.

You may also need to time the vaccinations around any cancer treatment you are having. Your cancer doctor can give you information about this. Some vaccinations are not safe to have during or soon after cancer treatment. Others are much more effective if you have them before cancer treatment starts.

Sometimes, it is not possible to have a vaccination at all. This may mean you cannot travel safely to some parts of the world.

It is also important to keep up to date with routine vaccinations. Doctors usually recommend that people with cancer have regular flu vaccination and a coronavirus (covid) vaccination.

Most vaccinations are given as an injection. If you have swelling in an arm (lymphoedema) or a risk of developing lymphoedema, avoid having injections in the affected limb if possible.

For information about travel vaccinations and the risk of infectious disease in other countries, visit:

Where can I get travel vaccinations?

Your GP, practice nurse or a travel health professional can give you information about where to get travel vaccinations. It can depend on where you are in the UK and the vaccinations you need. Some vaccinations are available free through the NHS. But there are some that you have to pay for, even if they are recommended for travel to a certain area.

Live vaccines

Live vaccines use small amounts of a live virus or bacteria that has been weakened. They are also called attenuated vaccines. Live vaccines are not usually able to cause the infection. But they help your body develop white blood cells to protect against the infection. These are called antibodies.

If you have a weakened immune system, live vaccines may cause a serious or life-threatening infection. This means you must not have live vaccines if you:

  • are having, or recently had, chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • have had an organ, stem cell or bone marrow transplant
  • are having some types of targeted therapy or immunotherapy drugs
  • had some types of targeted therapy or immunotherapy drugs in the past year
  • are taking, or have recently taken, high doses of steroids or immunosuppressive medicines – these are drugs that weaken the immune system.

Which vaccines are live?

Live vaccines include:

  • flu nasal spray (not the flu injection)
  • measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
  • shingles
  • oral typhoid capsule
  • yellow fever
  • some types of cholera vaccine
  • dengue fever.

When is it safe to have live vaccinations?

Your immune system improves gradually after you finish cancer treatment. How long this takes varies. It is important to ask your cancer doctor for advice. If you need live vaccines to travel, your cancer doctor can explain when it may be safe to have these.

Your travel clinic, GP surgery or pharmacist may need a letter from your cancer doctor confirming that you are not immunosuppressed and that it is safe for you to have live vaccines.

Some people have to avoid live vaccines for the rest of their lives. Always talk to your cancer doctor about whether you can have live vaccines if you have, or have had:

  • lymphoma – this is cancer of the lymph nodes
  • leukaemia – this is cancer of the white blood cells
  • a cancer that is related to a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

Yellow fever vaccines

You must never have the yellow fever vaccine if you have thymus gland cancer or have had your thymus removed for any reason. The thymus is a small gland in the chest between the lungs, which helps your body fight infection. You need to speak with your doctor and think carefully before visiting a country with a risk of yellow fever because you will not be protected against this serious infection.

Inactivated vaccines

Inactivated vaccines use a virus or bacteria that has been killed. These vaccines are safe to have after cancer treatment. But they may be less effective if you have them when your immune system is weak.

Which vaccines are inactivated?

Inactivated vaccines include:

  • some types of cholera vaccine
  • coronavirus (covid)
  • diphtheria, tetanus and polio (a combined vaccine)
  • flu injection
  • hepatitis A
  • hepatitis B
  • human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • meningitis
  • pneumonia
  • rabies
  • tick-borne encephalitis
  • typhoid injection.

About our information

  • 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.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 March 2023
Next review: 01 March 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.