Useful Pages

Travelling with cancer: Everything you need to know

Medical travel advice series - Cancer


Table of Contents

  1. What to consider before planning a trip
    • Risks of travelling with Cancer
    • Choosing a holiday destination
  2. Preparing for your trip
    • Consult your GP before you travel
    • Prepare your medication
    • Suntan and cancer
    • Deep vein thrombosis
    • Free travel for cancer patients
  3. Cancer and travel insurance
    • How to arrange travel insurance
    • Apply for an EHIC medical card
  4. Flying with cancer
    • Is it safe to fly with cancer?
    • Flying after chemotherapy
    • Flying after surgery
  5. Travelling with children with cancer
  6. When not to travel with cancer

If you or a loved one are living with cancer, planning a trip abroad might seem daunting.

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause side effects and symptoms that make planning your holiday difficult. However, with careful planning, travelling with cancer doesn’t have to stop you from booking that well-deserved trip abroad.

That’s why we’ve compiled a step-by-guide that tells you everything you need to know about travelling abroad with cancer, including travel insurance for cancer patients, how flying affects your condition and travelling with children with cancer.

What to consider before planning your trip

Many people who are living with cancer can travel without problems. Before browsing holiday brochures, you’ll want to consider a few things first, especially if you or you're loved one is travelling with cancer.

Risks of travelling with cancer

How cancer affects your travels will depend on the type of cancer you have and how it is being treated. Here are some things to consider:

Flying restrictions

Some terminal cancer patients and those with unique conditions may not be permitted to fly. Oxygen levels and changes in the air pressure during long-haul flights and at high altitudes can cause lymphedema (swelling of the arms and legs) which can be particularly dangerous for those who have had lymph nodes removed during cancer treatment. Always consult your GP and check the air flight restrictions before booking travel.

Blood clots

Cancer patients are at risk of developing blot clots (known as thrombosis), particularly after surgery. Blood clots are life-threatening, and your risk of blood clots will differ according to the type of cancer you have. Your doctor can confirm if you are at high or low risk of developing blood clots and provide advice on the precautions you should take. Read on for more information about blood clots.

Infection

Cancer treatment and some therapy drugs can increase your risk of infection. Before travelling, contact your GP or nurse for advice. High-risk cancer patients who are receiving intensive treatment like stem cell transplants should take extra precautions to prevent infections like:

  • always washing hands, especially before eating
  • being careful about the food you eat
  • protecting yourself against insect bites
Consult your doctor immediately if you think you have an infection.

Fatigue

Fatigue and feeling tired is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment. Tiredness shouldn’t spoil your holiday, but you should manage your expectations about how much you can do. Careful planning and leaving plenty of time to rest can help battle fatigue when travelling.

Contact your travel company before you book about your needs and make sure the right support is available. You can even arrange help from public services like airports and train stations, for example, you can arrange for someone to greet you from your flight with a wheelchair.

After surgery

You are at risk of infection if you travel soon after surgery. Your doctor will advise you on whether it is safe to travel and how long you should wait. The type of travel will depend on your circumstances. Flying may not be possible, but a short car, train or bus journeys might be okay. Read on for more on flying after surgery.

Choosing a holiday destination

Where you decide to go on holiday will be affected by your type of cancer and cancer treatment. So, before you make a decision, there are lots of things to consider including:

  • Climate
    Hot countries close to the equator will have higher amounts of the Sun’s UV rays. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and some medicines like Fluorouracil can make patients more sensitive to the sun.
  • Accommodation
    You may have booked a relaxing, peaceful holiday, but always check the accessibility of the hotel. How quickly can you get from your hotel to the nearest doctor or hospital? Is your accommodation wheelchair friendly and are lifts available?
  • Altitude
    Countries at high altitude make breathing much harder, especially during physical exercise. Countries like:
    • Peru
    • Mexico
    • China
    • Columbia
    And be especially careful if you’re staying in mountainous regions such as the Alps. Oxygen pressure at high altitudes can cause problems for some people living with cancer.

Vaccinations and immunisation

If you're travelling to Asia, Africa or South America, you might need vaccinations to protect against local diseases. There are two main types of vaccines: live vaccines and inactivated vaccines.

Live vaccines

Cancer patients should not have live vaccines while receiving chemotherapy, or for at least six months afterwards. Live vaccines contain a weak version of the illness or disease they protect. Chemotherapy can weaken the immune system and limit the effectiveness of vaccines making you more at risk of catching the disease.

Live vaccines include:

  • MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
  • BCG (tuberculosis)
  • Yellow fever
  • Oral typhoid
  • Shingles
  • Measles and Rubella (German measles)

Inactivated vaccines

Inactivated vaccines are safe for cancer patients. However, they might not work as well if you have a weakened immune system from chemotherapy.

Inactivated vaccines include:

  • Flu
  • Tetanus
  • Polio
  • Cholera
  • Typhoid
  • Meningitis
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Rabies
Check the World Health Organisation for information on vaccines by country. You can also contact your GP or nurse to check which vaccinations you will need. For more information on immunisations for cancer patients, see this article by Cancer Research UK.

Preparing for your trip

Once you’ve chosen your destination, you’ll need to prepare for your trip. Before you do, follow our guide to make your holiday one you’ll never forget.

Consult your GP before you travel

Before travelling anywhere, visit your GP for a health check, regardless of whether your condition is mild or severe. This is extremely important when flying due to reduced oxygen levels at high altitudes (more on flying with cancer below).

Questions to ask your GP

Your doctor will work with you to determine if it safe for you to travel and how far you can travel. Here is a list of questions to ask your GP:

  • Is it safe for me to travel?
  • What precautions should I take when travelling?
  • What do I do if I feel ill on my trip?
  • What vaccinations are needed for my trip (this will depend on the location)?
Follow up with your GP upon return from your trip, particularly if you have been ill during travel.

Prepare your medication

As a rule, you should keep all medicines in their original packaging. Take all the paperwork for your medicine with you, including pharmacy details, your name and address. These can also be included on a medical card which should state your:

  • GP’s contact information
  • Relevant health insurance information
  • Full travel insurance information
  • A complete list of medications, and
  • Information on allergies and illnesses

Take an extra supply of medication for your trip. Usually enough for your holiday plus an extra week. And never put them in your checked-in luggage, if your case is lost or stolen, you’ll lose all your medication. Always store it in your carry-on.

Check the terms and conditions of the airline you’re travelling with regarding medication and medical equipment.

Suntan and cancer

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause your skin to become extra sensitive to the Sun’s UV rays. Levels of skin sensitivity will vary depending on the type of cancer and treatment you have had. It is vital that you protect your skin from the sun at all the times – even after your cancer treatment has finished.

Tips for protecting yourself from the sun

  • If you have had radiotherapy treatment, cover the affected area entirely at all times.
  • Wear a hat big enough to share your face and neck.
  • Stay out of the sun during the hotter part of the day (between 11am and 2pm) and sit in the shade whenever possible.
  • Use a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) and UV protection. Use SPF 30 and above. If you're undergoing radiation therapy, consult your GP on whether using sun cream is likely to irritate your radiated skin.
  • Wear sunglasses with guaranteed UV protection.
  • You should avoid sunbathing and using sunbeds.
  • Apply suncream before insect repellent cream or spray.

Deep vein thrombosis

Having cancer can increase your risk of blood clots (called a deep vein thrombosis or DVT).

DVT develops in veins of the body, most likely to form in the thigh, lower leg or the pelvis area. A blood clot can block the normal flow of blood through the veins and in some severe cases, travel through your body causing a blockage in the heart or lungs.

Cancer patients have a higher number of platelets; platelets help to form clots in their blood. Plus, cancer treatments like chemotherapy and other surgery damage the walls of blood vessels, increasing the risk of developing a blood clot.

Ways to prevent DVT

  • Keep hydrated, especially on long-haul flights
  • Avoid drinking large amounts of alcohol and caffeine
  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes
  • Walk around and move at every opportunity
  • Book an aisle seat on trains and planes, so it’s easy for you to get up and to move
  • Ask your GP or nurse about compression stockings for travel, and make sure these are measured and fit you properly

Symptoms of DVT

Remember these symptoms of a blood clot:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing and breathlessness
  • Pain or redness of the arm or leg
  • Swelling of the arm or leg
Contact a medical professional immediately If you experience any of these symptoms. You will need treatment straight away.Inflight exercises to prevent DVT

Free travel for cancer patients

Grants from charities and government organisations are available for people living with cancer, and the people who care for them. Money which can be put towards the cost of a much needed relaxing holiday abroad. You can search for charity funded grants on the Turn2Us website.

The Macmillan Cancer Support Grant

The Macmillan Grant is a one-off payment (of around £400) which is available to those living with cancer or those still severely affected by the illness. The money can be used for anything, like travel expenses, resulting in free travel for cancer patients.

To apply for the Macmillan grant, contact your Macmillan nurse or practice nurse and ask for an application form. The Macmillan Grants team will process your application on the day they get it, and if approved, payments are usually sent out within three working days.

Family Fund Grant

If you have a child living with cancer, you might be eligible for a grant from the Family Fund. The Family Fund charity provides grants towards the cost of holidays for families on a low income who are caring for a child with a severe disability or illness. Download the Family Fund brochure and application form. One application per household.

Grants for carers

Carers Trust currently has a grant fund open for individual adult carers, aged 16 and above. If you are a carer for someone living with cancer, you could be eligible for a grant of up to £300 from the Carers Trust.

Government and local councils

Local government and welfare schemes provide grants and loans for cancer patients. Contact your local council to find out what help you can get in your area or visit gov.uk.

Cancer and travel insurance

Travel insurance for cancer patients is often more expensive and hard to find, but it shouldn’t stop you from booking that needed holiday abroad.

How to arrange travel insurance

We take the stress out of searching for suitable cancer travel insurance by offering a free cancer screening questionnaire.

Enter your details, answer the questions relevant to your condition and we’ll do the rest by assessing your current health condition. Your answers allow us to list suitable insurance options that cover cancer, which means we’ll do the searching for you.

Apply for an EHIC medical card

If you live in the UK, and you’re travelling in Europe, make sure you own a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC card). The EHIC card protects you from expensive medical bills and may allow you to receive free or reduced-cost health care.

You can find out more about the card, including how to apply, renew or replace on our dedicated EHIC card page. It’s also where you’ll find a comprehensive list of countries it’s accepted in, and the circumstances it covers.

Flying with Cancer

Most cancer patients can fly without problems. However, there are a few exceptions, particularly if you are still receiving treatment. It is advised that you consult your doctor before flying to check if it is safe to do so.

Is it safe to fly with cancer?

Many cancer patients can fly safely (it is always recommended that you check with your GP beforehand). If you are concerned about your fitness to fly you can check if you are fit to travel on the Civil Aviation Authority website or ask your doctor. Cancer patients in active treatment or those with lung-related problems are more at risk of complications if they fly.

Flying during chemotherapy

Travelling while receiving chemotherapy is possible for most people with cancer. Discuss your plans with your GP to ensure it's appropriate for you to travel during your chemotherapy treatment. Your doctor can give you specific tips related to your medical condition treatment plan.

Check to see if your chemotherapy medication is legal in the country you're travelling to; it’s advisable to have a doctor's note explaining what the drug is and why you need it.

Flying after cancer surgery

Your doctor will confirm how soon after your surgery you can fly. Operations on the brain, chest and bowel typically need more extended periods of rest. This is because oxygen levels and air pressure in aeroplane cabins can irritate and stretch open wounds, causing pain or long-lasting damage.

Always follow your doctor’s advice and check with the airline before you book as some airlines have their own rules on flying after surgery. Check if you are fit to travel on the Civil Aviation Authority website.

Travelling with children with cancer

Worrying about your child’s health can take the enjoyment out of a fun family holiday. Thorough planning before your trip will give you peace of mind.

  • We advise you carry all the medication and equipment they need and keep their medicine in your carry-on, with their full information.
  • Check the emergency services numbers for the country you are travelling to; your accommodation will list emergency numbers in the welcome pack.
  • Avoid illness by washing hands thoroughly at mealtimes and avoiding pre-cut fruit and pre-made salads.
  • Take your own first aid kit including:
    • Thermometer strips (easy to use and disposable)
    • Antihistamines (offers relief from hayfever, reactions to food, insect bites and heat rash)
    • Factor 30 sun cream or above
    • Rehydration sachets (perfect for upset tummies)
    • Plasters
    • Any existing medication

When not to travel with cancer

Some cancer patients may be advised not to travel by air. That's because aeroplane cabin pressure rises with altitude. You may be refused travel if:

  • you are breathless or suffer from breathing problems
  • you are anaemic (have a low number of red blood cells)
  • have a low number of platelets (cells that help the blood to clot)
  • you are at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • have had some medical procedures in the last six months
  • you have recently had surgery to your chest, bowel or eye
  • you have problems with your ears or sinuses

Always consult your doctor before flying anywhere. They can advise you on whether this is safe for you. This useful article by Cancer Research UK addresses situations when you shouldn’t fly with cancer.

Enjoy your holiday

Travelling with cancer, if the right precautions are taken, should never stop you from enjoying your holiday. So, the next time you’re booking a trip, remember to follow our step-by-step guide.

More advice

Ready for your online quote?

Tired of looking around for medical travel insurance? Why not use our quick and simple quote engine?

Get a quote

In need of assistance?

Our medical travel insurance team are ready to provide you with assistance regarding your quote. If you would prefer to talk to an advisor to receive a quote or have a query please contact our UK based customer service team. Find out details on our contact us page.


Sand and clear blue water