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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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
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
Symptoms of DVT
Remember these symptoms of a blood clot:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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