Travelling with long-term treatment effects

Cancer and its treatments can have long-term effects on your body – for example, a stoma, ileostomy or colostomy. If you have long-term effects, it is important to prepare for travel.

Travelling with a stoma

Having a stoma or opening on your tummy, such as a urostomy, colostomy or an ileostomy, should not stop you from travelling. But you may need to plan your trip more carefully.

  • Getting information

    Your stoma nurse can give you advice about issues such as:

    • your diet and fluid intake while you are travelling
    • activities such as swimming
    • managing your stoma during long journeys or flights
    • how high temperatures can affect the glue used to secure the stoma bags.
  • Stoma supplies

    Make sure you have stoma supplies to last throughout your trip. If you pack about twice the amount of your normal supplies, this helps you be prepared. You may need to change your stoma bag more often than usual, or you may be away for longer than planned. It is especially important to take extra supplies if you are going somewhere hot.

    It is a good idea to split your supplies between different items of luggage, in case any get lost. Pack essential supplies in your hand luggage, where you can reach them easily. If you are flying, remember there are rules about carrying scissors and liquids. Always check and follow the advice of the airline you are travelling with.

    Some stoma suppliers deliver abroad. Check whether your supplier offers this service before you travel. Store stoma bags in a cool place, away from direct sunlight. Use bottled or boiled water or wet wipes to clean around your stoma.

  • If you have a colostomy or ileostomy

    If you have a colostomy or an ileostomy, it is important to be careful about what you eat the day before you travel.

    Avoid spicy foods, fizzy drinks, alcohol and foods that cause wind. If you are travelling on a plane, the changes in air pressure may cause increased wind in the stoma bag. It may help to add an extra flatus filter, which helps wind to escape.

    Your GP or stoma nurse can advise you on medicines you can take if you have diarrhoea. These may include anti-diarrhoea medicines and rehydration powders. You can buy these in a pharmacy or supermarket. Or your GP can prescribe them.

    If the diarrhoea is severe while you are away or continues for more than 48 hours, it is important to see a doctor.

  • Travel certificates

    A travel certificate includes details of your medical condition. It can help explain your condition to travel officials, such as airport security staff. The certificate includes your name, address and passport number, and is signed by your doctor.

    You can get a stoma travel certificate and find more information and advice from:

If you have bowel or bladder problems

Sometimes cancer or its treatments can cause bowel or bladder problems that mean you need to find a toilet urgently or more often. Bowel or bladder problems should not stop you from travelling and enjoying your trip, but planning ahead can help. 

  • Access to toilets

    When arranging any type of travel, try to book an aisle seat close to a toilet. This makes it easier for you during the journey. It is also a good idea to have a bag of hand luggage with some supplies inside.

    Before your trip, ask if your accommodation has a private bathroom. If you are travelling somewhere unfamiliar, it is a good idea to find out more about the toilet facilities there. They may be different to what you would expect.

    If you are going somewhere new, it is a good idea to plan ahead and find out where toilets are before you go. Many areas have lists or maps of the local public toilets. These are often on local authority websites. You can try:

    • typing ‘public toilets’ and the name of the place you are visiting into a search engine, such as Google
    • visiting the Great British Public Toilet Map to see a map with details of public toilets
    • downloading a toilet app for your phone that can help you find a public toilet.
  • Get a toilet card

    A toilet card is a card you can show quickly and easily to staff in shops, pubs and other places. It explains that you have a medical condition and need urgent access to a toilet. Sometimes it is also called a bladder and bowel card or a ‘no waiting’ toilet card.

    You can order our Macmillan toilet card to carry and use when you are out in public. It also comes with a fob version that can be attached to a keyring. We cannot guarantee that it will work everywhere. But we hope it helps you get access to a toilet without any awkward questions.

    The Bladder and Bowel Community also offers a free Just Can’t Wait toilet card and toilet card app.

  • Use disabled toilets

    Disabled toilets often have more privacy and space. The National Key Scheme (NKS) offers access to over 9,000 locked disabled toilets in the UK. You can buy a key online from places such as Disability Rights UK. You can also order a guide that tells you where the toilets are.

  • Take supplies with you

    You may want to pack a bag of the things you might need when travelling. This could include:

    • wet wipes or baby wipes
    • barrier cream to protect the skin from damage or infection, such as Cavilon® or Sudocrem®
    • pads and extra pants
    • antibacterial gel or hand wash
    • a change of clothing
    • sealable and disposable bags.

    If you have bladder problems, you may find it helpful to take a portable urinal with you. This is a light bottle you can pee into if you cannot get to a toilet in time.

    Talk to your cancer doctor or nurse for advice on travelling. You can ask them whether any medicines, such as anti-diarrhoea tablets, may be helpful for you.

If you have lymphoedema

Lymphoedema is a swelling caused by a build-up of fluid in the body’s tissues. It can happen when lymph nodes (glands) have been blocked, damaged or removed because of cancer or its treatment. Lymphoedema can affect any part of the body, but most commonly develops in an arm or a leg.

If you have lymphoedema or a risk of developing it, planning ahead can help you manage any problems and enjoy your time away.

If you have a lymphoedema specialist, talk to them about your travel plans before you go. It is important to continue with your usual routine for managing lymphoedema. There are also other things you need to be careful about when travelling.

We have more information about lymphoedema.

  • Before you go

    These tips may help you prepare for your trip:

    • If you need any vaccinations before your trip, avoid having injections in the affected limb if possible.
    • If you are planning a more active holiday, talk to your lymphoedema specialist before you travel. They can give you advice to help you protect the affected area.
    • Ask your specialist for information about lymphoedema and air travel. If you are flying a long distance, you may need a compression garment. This should be measured and fitted properly for you by a trained specialist.
    • Ask your lymphoedema specialist if there are exercises you should do while you are travelling. These may help prevent a build-up of fluid in the affected area. When booking travel, you could ask for an aisle seat. This gives you more room to move around.
    • Ask your GP or lymphoedema specialist if you need to take antibiotics with you. This is in case you develop a skin infection called cellulitis. Cellulitis can become serious if it is not treated quickly. The Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN) has guidance for healthcare professionals on using antibiotics to treat cellulitis when you have lymphoedema. They also have factsheets called ‘What is Cellulitis?’ and ‘Management of Cellulitis in Lymphoedema’. You can download an order form on their website.
    • Ask your lymphoedema specialist, pharmacist or travel health clinic for advice about protecting your skin when you are on holiday.
  • During your journey

    Here are some tips to reduce the risk of getting lymphoedema or making it worse during your journey:

    • Avoid sitting in the same position for the whole journey.
    • If you have lymphoedema in your arm, try to move it as often as you can. Carry shoulder bags or heavy luggage with the other arm if possible.
    • When you are travelling, move around and do gentle stretching exercises regularly. While you are sitting, circle your ankles, move your arms and legs, and try some deep breathing.
    • During long car journeys, stop regularly to get out and walk around.
    • Try to give yourself plenty of leg room when travelling. To allow space to stretch your legs, do not put anything under the seat in front of you.
    • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and shoes.
    • Wear compression garments or stockings if your lymphoedema specialist advised this. Follow their instructions about when and how long to wear them for.
    • Use a wheeled suitcase you can pull, to avoid extra strain on your muscles.
    • Ask someone to help you with luggage – especially if you need to lift bags into overhead storage.
    • Drink plenty of water, but not too much caffeine and alcohol, to avoid getting dehydrated.
  • While you are away

    There are things you can do to help with lymphoedema when you are away:

    • If you have lymphoedema in your arm, be careful lifting and pulling heavy bags with the affected arm. Take care not to put more strain on your arm than usual. Ask someone to help.
    • Take care of your skin by keeping it clean and using moisturiser every day. Avoid getting sunburnt, as this can increase swelling.
    • If you have lymphoedema in your leg, do not walk barefoot on a beach or around a swimming pool. This reduces the risk of cuts and possible infection in your foot.
    • If you get a cut, scratch or graze on the affected limb, clean it straight away with soap and water. Put on antiseptic cream and cover the affected area.
    • Swimming or moving around in water is good for lymphoedema. You do not need to wear a compression garment while swimming because the water creates enough pressure. After swimming, shower and put moisturiser on your skin – sea salt and chlorine make the skin extra dry.
    • It may be best to avoid saunas and hot baths in case this increases swelling. Keep the affected area as cool as possible.
    • Protect yourself from insect bites and tell a doctor straight away if you have any signs of an infection.

If your spleen has been removed

The spleen is an organ that helps the body destroy bacteria and fight infections. If your spleen has been removed (splenectomy) or is not working properly, you have a higher risk of serious infections.

Talk to your doctor if you are planning to travel. They can give you advice and help you plan your trip as safely as possible. This may include:

  • giving you a supply of antibiotics and explaining when you may need to take them
  • arranging any vaccinations you need.

Malaria can be a life-threatening infection for people without a working spleen. If possible, it is best to avoid travelling to areas where malaria is common. If you have to travel to a country where malaria is common, you must get advice from your specialist doctor. You may need to take extra precautions.

There is more information about travelling if your spleen has been removed or does not work properly.

While you are away, it is important to contact a doctor straight away if you are ill. If you have insect or animal bites, get treatment urgently. Make sure you know what to do if you become unwell.

GOV.UK has a leaflet and patient warning card that you can carry with you when travelling.

If you have a tracheostomy or laryngectomy

Laryngectomy is surgery to remove part or all of the voice box. Having a tracheostomy or laryngectomy should not stop you from travelling. But check with your doctor whether it is safe to travel if you have had surgery recently.

Ask your doctor or specialist nurse for advice before you travel. This may include information about the following.

  • Healthcare during your trip

    It is helpful to plan what you will do if you need help while you are away. Find out where the nearest hospital will be and take their contact details with you. Check if they have an ear, nose and throat (ENT) department.

  • Supplies and spare equipment

    Make sure you have everything you might need and think about how to pack. It is a good idea to split your supplies between different items of luggage, in case any get lost. Pack essential supplies in your hand luggage, where you can reach them easily.

  • How to look after your stoma or opening in the windpipe

    You should look after your stoma as usual. But if you are travelling somewhere warmer or colder, ask your doctor or nurse for advice. Your body may produce thicker or stickier mucus (phlegm) and you may need to take extra care.

    Air on planes is very dry and can irritate your lungs. We have more information about flying with a breathing stoma.

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.