Your GP or a private travel health clinic can help arrange vaccinations for you. Vaccinations can reduce your chance of getting certain infections. If you have had a particular type of cancer or cancer treatment, some vaccinations may not be suitable for you. This may mean you will not be able to travel to some parts of the world.
Live vaccines use small amounts of the live virus or bacteria. The virus or bacteria used in these types of vaccines have been changed, so they do not cause the infection. The vaccines encourage the immune system to develop white blood cells (antibodies) to protect against the infection. If you have a weak immune system, you should not have live vaccines.
Your immune system may be weakened if you:
- are having, or have recently had, chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- have had an organ transplant or bone marrow transplant
- are taking, or have recently taken, high doses of steroids or immunosuppressive medicines (drugs that weaken the immune system).
You can have live vaccines after completing immunosuppressive treatments, but you will need to speak to your cancer specialist first. You may need to get a letter from your specialist to confirm that you can have live vaccinations.
Live vaccines include:
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- oral typhoid
- yellow fever.
Some people may need to avoid live vaccines for the rest of their lives. This includes people who have had a lymphoma or leukaemia, or if their cancer is related to HIV infection.
Inactivated vaccines are safe after cancer treatment, but they may be less effective in people who have low immunity. If you are having chemotherapy, you should ask your cancer specialist when you should have any vaccinations. Inactivated vaccines include:
- diphtheria, tetanus and polio
- hepatitis A
- hepatitis B
- Japanese encephalitis
- meningococcal meningitis
- pneumococcal (pneumonia)
- typhoid injection
- tick-borne encephalitis
If you have had high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, you may not be immune to diseases you were previously vaccinated against. You may need to be re-vaccinated after your treatment has ended.
The vaccinations you may need for your holiday will depend on where you are going. If you have lymphoedema in an arm, or are at risk of developing it due to breast cancer surgery or radiotherapy to an armpit, it is important to have vaccinations in the other arm.