Cancer and travel vaccinations
Vaccinations can reduce your risk of getting certain infections. If you have had a particular cancer or treatment, you may not be able to have these vaccinations.
You cannot have some vaccinations during or soon after cancer treatment. But you may be able to get vaccinations for future travel before you start treatment. You need to talk with your cancer doctor and a travel health professional about this.
If possible, speak to your GP, practice nurse or private health clinic at least 8 weeks before you are due to travel. Some vaccines must be given in advance to work as well as possible. Other vaccines involve having a few doses spread over several weeks or months.
If you have, or have had, a particular type of cancer or cancer treatment, some vaccinations may not be suitable for you. This may mean you cannot travel safely to some parts of the world.
Your GP, practice nurse or a private travel health clinic can help arrange vaccinations for you.
For information about the vaccinations you need and the risk of infectious disease in specific countries, visit:
Live vaccines use a very weak version of the illness they are vaccinating you against. This means they do not cause the infection. The vaccine encourages your immune system to develop white blood cells (antibodies) to protect against the infection.
You cannot have live vaccines if you have a weak immune system. Your immune system may be weakened if you:
- are having, or have recently had, chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- have had an organ, stem cell or bone marrow transplant
- are having, or have had in the past year, some targeted therapy or immunotherapy drugs
- are taking, or have recently taken, high doses of steroids or immunosuppressive medicines (drugs that weaken the immune system).
When is it safe to have live vaccinations?
Your immune system should start working normally several months after you finish treatment. Talk to your cancer doctor about when would be a good time for you to start planning travel. They will explain when you can safely have the live vaccinations you need for the country you are visiting. You may need to ask them for a letter to say that you can have live vaccinations.
A travel health professional can also give you advice about where it would be safe to go and how best to prepare for the trip.
Live vaccines include:
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- yellow fever.
You must never have the yellow fever vaccine if you have thymus gland cancer, or have had your thymus removed. 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.
Other people may need to avoid live vaccines for the rest of their lives. You may need to do this if you have, or have had:
- lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes)
- leukaemia (cancer of the white blood cells)
- a cancer that is related to HIV infection.
If you have, or have had, one of these types of cancer, talk to your cancer doctor about whether you can have a live vaccine.
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 in people with a weakened immune system. If you are having chemotherapy, ask your cancer doctor when you should have any vaccinations.
Inactivated vaccines include:
- diphtheria, tetanus and polio (a combined vaccine)
- hepatitis A
- hepatitis B
- flu injection
- Japanese encephalitis
- typhoid injection
- tick-borne encephalitis
When you are vaccinated for a disease, your body builds up a protection from this disease. If you have had high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, you may lose this protection. This means you may need to be re-vaccinated after your treatment finishes. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will give you advice about this.
The vaccinations you need for your holiday depend on where you are travelling. If you have lymphoedema (swelling) in an arm, it is important to get your vaccinations in the other arm. This also applies if you are at risk of developing lymphoedema due to breast cancer surgery or radiotherapy to an armpit.
We have more information about travelling if you have lymphoedema.
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
Fit for Travel. fitfortravel.nhs.uk (accessed June 2019).
GOV.UK. Drugs licensing. Available from gov.uk/guidance/controlled-drugs-licences-fees-and-returns (accessed April 2019).
Jane Chiodini, Travel Health Specialist Nurse. www.janechiodini.co.uk (accessed April 2019).
National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC). travelhealthpro.org.uk (accessed June 2019).
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.