About travel and cancer

How cancer affects your travels will depend on a number of factors including the physical effects of the type of cancer you have and its treatments. We have a checklist for planning for your trip that might be useful.

Cost of insurance

Will I need different travel insurance?

Medical treatment abroad can be very expensive. We have more information about travel insurance. Take your insurance policy document and helpline number with you when you travel.

Physical effects of travelling during or after treatment

How do I manage feeling very tired (fatigue)?

Feeling very tired is a common side effect of cancer treatment. It can sometimes continue for months after treatment is over. It can also be an ongoing symptom if you have cancer. You will need to think about the amount of activity you can manage and how to pace yourself. Try not to do too many things and make sure you take plenty of time to rest between activities. You can also arrange to have help at airports and train stations. Or you may want to organise a wheelchair, so you do not need to walk as much.

Am I more at risk of infection?

Chemotherapy and some targeted therapy drugs increase your risk of infection. Your risk of getting an infection will be higher at some times than others. Most people are fine a few weeks after treatment is over. However, you should always check with your doctor first.

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.

Am I more at risk of developing a blood clot?

Having cancer increases your risk of a blood clot. Doctors sometimes call this a deep vein thrombosis or DVT. Travelling, especially flying, also increases the risk of developing a blood clot.

Do I need to stay out of the sun?

Radiotherapy and some cancer drugs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it is very important to protect the skin in the treated area.

Your cancer doctor or nurse can tell you more about this. It is important to look after your skin by using a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. You should also stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (between 11am and 3pm). Try to sit in the shade, even at other times of the day.

People who have had a donor stem cell transplant should be very careful about protecting themselves from the sun. We have more information about protecting yourself in the sun.

Does cancer treatment affect what vaccinations I can have?

Vaccinations can reduce your chance of getting certain infections. Some vaccinations are recommended before you travel to some parts of the world. If you have had a particular type of cancer or treatment, you may not be able to have these. This may affect where you can go on holiday.

Will surgery affect my ability to travel?

If you have recently had surgery, your doctor will advise you on whether it is safe to travel or how long you should wait. They can also tell you if there is a type of travel you should avoid. People who have had surgery are more at risk of a blood clot. You may have to delay your travel for a few weeks and follow certain advice to reduce this risk. We have more information about:

  • If you have had an operation to the brain, eye, chest or bowel

    After certain operations, such as to the brain, eye, chest or bowel, you will be advised not to fly for a while. This is because surgery may introduce air into the body. Flying can increase pressure and cause pain or stretch a wound. It is very important to follow the advice your doctor gives you. You may also want to check with the airline before you book, as they will have their own rules about flying after surgery.

  • If you have had your spleen removed

    People who have had their spleen removed (splenectomy) are more at risk of developing an infection. You will need to take certain precautions, especially if you are travelling to an area where there is a risk of malaria. Malaria is a disease spread by mosquitos. It is mainly found in tropical countries, for example in parts of Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Malaria can be especially severe if you have had a splenectomy.

  • If you are having or have had a urostomy, a colostomy, an ileostomy or a tracheostomy

    If you are having or have had a urostomy, a colostomy, an ileostomy or a tracheostomy, there may be certain things you need to think about before you travel. Having a stoma does not stop you from travelling, but you will have to think carefully about preparing for your trip. Most hospitals have specially trained nurses, called stoma care nurses. Ask your nurse for advice about travel insurance and certificates, supplies and any dietary issues you may have while you are away.

  • If you have had a breast removed (mastectomy)

    Having a breast removed (mastectomy) does not stop you from travelling. Organisations such as Breast Cancer Care have information about suitable holiday wear, such as swimsuits.

I have long-term treatment effects. How will these affect my ability to travel?

Some cancer treatments may cause or increase the risk of long-term physical problems. We have more information about travelling if you have:

  • lymphoedema
  • had your spleen removed
  • a stoma
  • bowel or bladder problems.

Preparing for travel

Should I take a doctor’s note with me when travelling to a different country?

It may be helpful to ask your GP for a written summary of your diagnosis and treatment so:

  • you can show it to healthcare providers abroad if you become ill.
  • you can look up translations of some of the key phrases on the notes (only do this if you are certain the translation is correct).

You will need a letter from your GP or oncology team before taking some medicines abroad.

Should I let my travel company know about my specific needs?

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.

Taking medicines to a different country

Can I take medicines to a different country?

Before taking some types of medicine in or out of the UK, you will need a letter from your doctor. This includes some painkillers and morphine. Your GP, oncology team, practice nurse or pharmacist can advise you about taking medicines abroad.

If you are taking regular medicines, make sure you have enough to last for your whole trip. You should make sure you have enough in case your return is delayed and your GP may be able to increase your prescription.

Are there restrictions on the medicines you can take in and out of the country I am travelling to?

Some countries restrict or limit the drugs that can be taken into or out of the country. It is important to check with the country’s high commission or embassy.

If you are travelling for more than 3 months, you may need a medicines licence from the Home Office so you can take certain drugs out of the UK.

You can download a form or ask to be sent one by phoning 020 7035 6330. The Home Office will usually need at least 2 weeks to process your application. Gov.uk has more information about medicine restrictions while travelling.

Can I buy medicines when I am away?

If you are going for a long time, check whether you can get the medicines you need in the country you are going to. Your doctor can normally prescribe only a limited amount.

If you are already abroad and run out of supplies, you may be able to register with a local doctor, or buy medicines from a pharmacist.

You should check that the pharmacy is licensed. You should also ask the pharmacist whether the medicine has the same active ingredient as the one you are taking.

Will the medicine have the same name?

Medicines tend to have at least two names:

  • the name of the drug (its ‘generic’ name)
  • the name of the brand.

Brand names can vary between countries, so it can help to keep a record of generic names. Your pharmacist can help you with this. The British embassy or high commission in the country you are visiting will be able to advise you about local healthcare.

Can I take oxygen with me?

Oxygen for travel in the UK is provided by the NHS (England, Scotland and Wales) or the Health Service (Northern Ireland). If you are travelling in Europe, oxygen can be arranged through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme. If you are travelling outside of Europe, you will need to contact an oxygen company that supplies the country you will be visiting.

Let your usual oxygen provider know the details of your holiday. You will need to tell them the dates you are going and returning and where you will be staying.

For more information, visit the travel section of the British Lung Foundation website.

How do I store and carry medicines?

You should carry all medicines, covering letters and licences for controlled drugs in your hand luggage, as customs officers will usually need to see them. Keep medicines in their original packaging.

If they are not controlled drugs, you can carry one set in your hand luggage and another in your suitcase. If one set goes missing, you still have the other.

It can also help to keep a list of:

  • the medicines you are taking
  • information about the doses
  • the number of times a day you take them.

This will help you get replacements if you lose them.

Can I take medicines on an aeroplane?

Most non-medicinal liquids in your hand luggage are restricted to a maximum of 100ml. You can bring more than 100ml of a liquid medicine, but you will need to check this with your airline and the airport you are leaving from before you travel. You will also need to bring a supporting document from your doctor or another relevant medical professional. Gov.uk have more information about carrying liquids in your hand luggage.

How do I keep medicines cool?

The shelf life of some medicines can be reduced if they are not kept at the correct temperature. Ask your pharmacist for advice. If you are travelling with medicines that need to be kept cool, you can get small cool bags from your chemist for the journey. If you use cool packs, be careful that medicines do not freeze, as this may affect them.

It will help to check with your hotel whether there will be a fridge in your room. If not, ask them if there is somewhere secure where your medicines can be stored and kept cool but not frozen. You may find it helpful to travel with a simple fridge thermometer to confirm storage temperatures.

Do I need to change the time I take my medicine when changing time zones?

If you are travelling across international time zones, this is likely to affect the time you take your regular medicines. If the time difference is only a couple of hours, you may want to continue taking the medicines at the same times you have been (UK time).

If there is a difference of several hours from UK time, you may end up taking your medicines at inconvenient times of the day or night. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you plan how to change the times you take your medicines.

Taking care while you are away

Do I need to be careful what I eat and drink while I am away?

Wherever you are in the world, be careful about what you eat and drink. Many infectious diseases are spread by contaminated food and water. This includes water in:

  • swimming pools
  • lakes
  • rivers
  • the sea.

Try not to swallow water when you are swimming. If you are still at risk of infection, you will need to be very careful about what you eat and drink. Make sure you always follow any advice your cancer team has given you. We have more information on tips for tips for avoiding stomach problems.

What do I do if I get any insect bites or animal scratches?

1. Clean the wound carefully with soap and water.
2. Apply an antiseptic if you can.
3. See a doctor immediately.

In some countries, many diseases can be spread by insects and ticks. Always use insect repellent, preferably containing at least 50% DEET (diethyl-m-toluamide). Cover your arms and legs with appropriate clothing, especially if you are walking in grassy or wooded areas.

Animal bites and scratches can lead to dangerous infections. It is important to be careful, even with animals that seem harmless. Animals in many regions, including most of Europe and North America, can carry rabies.

What do I do if I become ill?

If you become ill while staying in a hotel, ask the receptionist to call a doctor. If you need urgent attention, contact the emergency services or visit the emergency department of the nearest hospital. If you have time, try to get help and advice from a doctor or nurse who speaks the same language as you – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may be able to help you with this.

Keep the names and addresses of family and friends with your passport, so that British Consular officials can contact them if you need their help. It is important to keep these details up to date each time you travel.

If you need to return to the UK quickly, you should also contact British Consular officials. They can usually arrange this for you, but you may need to pay a fee.

It is important that you arrange the correct travel insurance.

Things to remember when travelling

Does cancer treatment affect my ability to travel by air?

Some people with cancer may be advised not to travel by air. This is usually because oxygen levels and air pressures change at high altitudes.

Always get advice from your cancer doctor or nurse if you are thinking of flying anywhere. They can advise you on whether this is safe for you.

I am worried about body scanning at the airport, will security be aware of my needs?

Body scanning is carried out randomly at airports, but security staff have been trained to handle sensitive issues around surgery and treat passengers respectfully. You may want to think about the following:

  • If you have an external prosthesis, implant or a stoma

    You may want to tell the security staff as you enter the security area of the airport. You may also want to carry a card with a brief description of your condition, including information about your prosthesis or stoma if you have one.

  • If you wear a wig

    You don’t usually need to go through any extra security checks. If a security official does ask to check your wig, you can ask them to use a hand scanner so you do not need to remove it. If they ask you to remove the wig, you can ask to do this in a private space.

You may want to contact the embassy for the country you are visiting, to find out their policy on body scanning.

If I have mobility needs, can I park in restricted areas?

In the UK, the Blue Badge scheme generally allows you to park 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.

Where can I find more information on driving in a different country?

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

If I have mobility needs, can I get cheaper rail travel?

Within England, Scotland and Wales, the Disabled Person’s Railcard entitles people with mobility needs to cheaper rail travel. Similar discounts may be available in some other countries.

Will I need extra help when travelling by train?

Check with train companies in advance about whether particular train lines and stations are suitable for your needs. Many trains in the UK and abroad are wheelchair accessible. Let the company know if you will need help boarding or getting off a train at a particular station.

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