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Taking care when you are away

When you’re travelling you may need to take extra care, especially if you’re at risk of blood clots, infection, lymphoedema (swelling) or sun sensitivity.

Blood clots

Some people with cancer are more at risk of developing blood clots (deep vein thrombosis or DVT).

This is because people with cancer can have more of the proteins and cell fragments (platelets) that help the blood to clot.

You might also be more at risk if:

  • your type of cancer has a higher DVT risk than others
  • you’re taking hormone therapies that can increase risk, such as tamoxifen
  • you have had certain types of cancer drugs
  • you’ve had surgery within the last few months
  • you may not be very mobile or active
  • you smoke or take the contraceptive pill

Taking care while travelling

Sitting for long periods also increases your risk of developing a blood clot. So you need to take care if you’re travelling by car, plane, train or coach.

Check with your doctor before you travel, if you think you might be at higher risk. You may need to take blood thinning drugs before and after some journeys.

Tips to prevent blood clots

  • Take short walks as often as possible.
  • Do simple leg exercises every hour if you can't move around much – for example, bend and straighten your legs, feet and toes.
  • Do deep breathing and upper body exercises.
  • Wear compression stockings (these should be measured to fit).
  • Have plenty of non alcoholic drinks.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Report any symptoms to your doctor straight away.

It’s possible to walk around in most forms of travel, except by car. And even then you can stop for regular breaks.

On plane trips, walk up and down the aisle every hour or so if the seatbelt signs are off. Many airlines also give advice about exercises you can do in your seat. You can often find this in their in-flight magazine or on the entertainment system.

You can buy compression socks or stockings in chemists and at airports. It’s important that they’re the correct size. You usually need to measure the widest part of your calf. That's better than going by shoe size alone. 

Tell your doctor straight away if you have:

  • pain, swelling or tenderness in one area of your leg
  • warm or red skin in the area
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain

Infection

Some cancer drugs will make you at risk of infection for a while after your last treatment.

Most people will be fine after a few weeks. But if you've had intensive treatment, such as a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, you’ll be more at risk of infection for a few months. Your doctor may advise you against going abroad for the first 6 to 12 months after intensive treatment. 

Think carefully when choosing your destination and the type of holiday. Talk to your specialist if you’re in any doubt.

Tips for avoiding stomach bugs

  • Drink bottled water – make sure the seal hasn’t been broken and the bottle refilled.
  • Be careful to only eat food that has been freshly cooked and is still hot.
  • Peel fruit.
  • Avoid raw vegetables, salad and ice in drinks.
  • Be careful with ice cream – avoid street sellers.

Tips for avoiding skin infections

  • Try to avoid insect bites – use an insect repellent at all times.
  • Take a first aid kit, including antiseptic wipes and plasters or dressings.
  • Treat cuts and grazes straight away – especially in hot, humid climates.

Talk to your doctor about whether you need to take some antibiotics with you, for either a stomach bug or cuts and grazes.  

And remember to talk to your doctor in plenty of time before your trip about what vaccinations you may need.

Lymphoedema

Any swelling of part of the body (lymphoedema) that you have might become worse for a while when you’re travelling. This is most likely to be because you won’t be moving so much during the journey.

Tips for coping with lymphoedema while travelling

  • Wear a well fitting elastic (compression) sleeve or stocking when travelling.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Keep the affected arm or leg raised, if possible.
  • Move around at least every hour.
  • Avoid extremes of temperature – if possible, keep cool.
  • Avoid sunburn.
  • Look after your skin – keep it clean and moisturised.
  • Avoid insect bites – use an insect repellent.
  • Clean cuts and grazes with antiseptic and cover them.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Don’t overdo things – just do the same amount of exercise as usual.

Talk to your doctor about taking antibiotics with you, in case you get an infection.

You might want to wear a medical alert bracelet to show you have lymphoedema or are at risk of it.

This alerts health professionals that they shouldn’t use your affected arm or leg to take your blood pressure, or for blood tests or injections.

Taking care in the sun

Everyone should protect their skin from the sun. Exposure to strong sun isn’t good for anyone.

But after some cancer treatments, your skin may be more sensitive to the sun than the average person’s. Your skin may also be drier. And it may be more sensitive to chemicals, such as chlorine in swimming pools.

Talk to your specialist about whether your treatment will make your skin more sensitive.

Cancer drugs that make your skin more sensitive to sun include:

  • Doxorubicin
  • Dacarbazine
  • Fluorouracil
  • Idarubicin
  • Methotrexate

Your skin may stay sensitive for a few years after treatment.

After radiotherapy, the skin where you had treatement will stay sensitive for many years. Keep it covered for the first year. And you’ll need to keep protecting it for many years after that.

  • Wear close weave cotton clothing in the sun.
  • Wear long sleeves and trousers.
  • Wear a hat that shades your face and neck.
  • Avoid the sun when it is the strongest between 11am and 3pm.
  • Use a high factor broad spectrum sun cream that protects you against UVA and UVB rays.

Information and help

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