How cancer treatment may affect your travels

Travelling can be fun and fulfilling. But when you have cancer, you may have a few more things to think about if you’re planning a trip.

It’s important to check whether you’re fit to travel. Your doctor can tell you if there is anything that could make travelling unsafe.

You may be advised to avoid flying if you:

  • are breathless
  • are anaemic
  • are at risk of developing swelling in the brain
  • have recently had surgery.

Cancer treatments, like radiotherapy and chemotherapy, can sometimes cause short-term physical problems. Some treatments can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun. These effects can limit the amount of travelling you can do – or the type of activities you do while you’re away. If you want to travel abroad, it can also be more difficult to get travel insurance.

Being in the middle of treatment doesn’t always mean you can’t travel. It may be possible – for example between courses of chemotherapy. Talk to your cancer specialist about the best time to go away. They should also be able to give you advice about supplies you need, or any dietary issues you should think about. With good planning, you can often avoid travel problems.

Travel and cancer

There are many different reasons why you might want to travel. You may want to go away to relax, see new places, meet friends or family, or perhaps to work.

Being diagnosed with cancer sometimes makes people want to travel more. Some people decide to book trips they had always imagined going on.

Travelling can be a positive and fulfilling experience. But when you have cancer, there are a few more things you will have to think about when planning a trip. It’s important that you (and any health professionals looking after you) think about any possible health problems and check thoroughly whether you are fit to travel. You can often avoid travel problems with good planning.

'When they tell you you have cancer, your mind goes off because you are trying to put all of your affairs in order. I thought, wow, I want to get out there and see places.' Alan


How cancer can affect travel

Cancer is not a single disease with a single cause and a single type of treatment. If you or someone close to you has only recently been diagnosed with cancer, you may still be learning more about the condition. Cancer and its treatments can have physical effects that may limit your ability to travel. For example:

  • lung cancer can cause a cough or breathlessness.
  • a cancer that’s spread into the lymph glands may cause parts of the body to swell up. This happens because the flow of lymph fluid is blocked (this is known as lymphoedema).
  • cancer in a bone may make the bone weak. It can increase the chance of the bone breaking (a fracture).

It’s important to speak to your doctor before you make any plans. They can tell whether your cancer or its treatment could make travelling unsafe. They will tell you how you need to prepare if you do travel.

We can send you information about your type of cancer. Call our cancer support specialists.

Cancer treatment

Common treatments for cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, biological therapy and hormonal therapy. The aim of treatment will either be to cure a cancer, to prevent cancer coming back, or to control its symptoms for as long as possible and to improve quality of life.

Cancer treatments may cause short-term physical problems, such as sickness or diarrhoea. Some treatments can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Occasionally, treatments can cause long-term physical problems, such as lymphoedema. Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a build-up of fluid. This happens when the lymphatic system, which normally drains fluid away, isn't working properly.

Some treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can make you very tired (fatigued) both during and after treatment. Tiredness may limit the travelling you can do or the amount of activity you can manage while you’re away.

We have more information on coping with fatigue.

How surgery can affect travel

Some types of surgery for cancer may cause permanent changes to the body. For example:

Treatment for colon cancer can include removing part of the bowel and creating an ileostomy or colostomy. This won’t stop you from travelling, but you will have to think carefully about your trip. Most hospitals have specially trained nurses, called stoma care nurses, who can help you after your treatment. They can give you advice about travel insurance and certificates, supplies and any dietary issues you may have while you’re away.

Breast cancer treatment may involve removing a breast (mastectomy). You should still be able to travel, but we can help you find organisations that supply bras, swimsuits and holiday wear for women who’ve had a mastectomy. Contact our cancer support specialists or use our online organisation search.

If you’ve had any type of surgery or have any physical condition that could affect your ability to travel, there are many organisations that can help and support you.

Travelling during treatment

You may be able to have a holiday while you’re still in the middle of treatment – for example, between courses of chemotherapy treatment. In this situation, it’s very important to discuss your treatment with your cancer specialist beforehand. They can help you plan the best time for your holiday to make sure it doesn’t interrupt your treatment. You can talk through any possible problems and how you may be able to deal with them.

We have more information about cancer treatments and their side effects, which we can send you.

You may only want to travel within the UK during your treatment and for some time after treatment, because it may be difficult to get insurance for a holiday abroad. See our section on getting travel insurance for more information.

Air travel

Some people with cancer may, under particular circumstances, be advised not to travel by air. This is because oxygen levels and air pressure change at high altitudes. You may be advised not to fly if you:

  • are breathless
  • are anaemic (have a low number of red blood cells)
  • are at risk of developing an increased pressure or swelling in the brain (cerebral oedema) due to a brain tumour
  • have recently had surgery or a medical procedure. This is because flying can introduce gas into the body that may expand to cause pain and stretch your wound. Speak to your cancer specialist about how long you should avoid air travel for after surgery
  • have recently had surgery to your chest
  • have recently had brain surgery
  • have problems with your ears or sinuses. Pressure changes may make your symptoms worse.

Enjoying your trip

Hopefully, once everything is planned you’ll be able to look forward to enjoying your time away. For many people affected by cancer, taking some time to travel can help them feel better. It may help to put the treatment behind them and give them a chance to reflect on all they’ve been through. For other people, it can be a special time with family or friends, to see a place they’ve always wanted to see or visit people they’ve not seen in a while. Whatever the reason for your travels, with careful planning you’ll be able to look forward to and enjoy your trip.

Travel and cancer

Alan talks about his holidays and adventures since he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

About our cancer information videos

Travel and cancer

Alan talks about his holidays and adventures since he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

About our cancer information videos

Back to Preparing to travel

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Travel services often have facilities, staff or schemes to help make your trip safe.

Travelling with a stoma

Having a stoma shouldn’t stop you from travelling, but you may need to plan your trip more carefully.

Checklist for travel

Whether you’re travelling abroad or in the UK, here’s a list of things to consider before you leave.