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Travelling abroad

Travelling abroad when you have cancer might not affect where or how you travel. But sometimes you could have a few extra things to think about.

Preparing for your trip

Your physical needs might be different since your treatment. You may be more tired or at more risk of getting an infection. Or you may be more sensitive to the sun, after having radiotherapy or some cancer drugs.

There could also be practical issues - such as whether you’ll have the facilities you need close by if you get tired easily, or whether you’ll need wheelchair access.

You also need to think about when you make your trip. There are times when you shouldn’t travel – for example, you shouldn’t fly too soon after surgery. It’s worth talking to your doctor or nurse so they can advise you.

It’s also important to think about travel insurance.

Your journey

Some cancers and their treatments can increase your risk of getting a blood clot. Sitting still for a long time can increase the risk, whether you are travelling by plane, car or bus.

So however you’re travelling, think about how long it will take and whether you can manage the journey comfortably. 

If you'll be travelling by plane and need oxygen, you'll need to arrange this with the airline in advance.

Help from travel companies

Travel companies and some airlines have a medical officer who can give you advice about your journey.

Almost all airlines will have advice on their website or a customer service department you can contact.

You should let them know about:

  • any disability you have
  • any special needs
  • the equipment you might need

They will be able to arrange any help you might need, including:

  • early boarding and finding a suitable seat
  • special diets
  • wheelchairs
  • transfers to and from the airport
  • oxygen

Your doctor might need to fill out a form showing that you’re well enough to fly. This can all take time to arrange. So contact your travel company or airline in plenty of time before your trip.

Healthcare in Europe

Get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you’re going to a country within the European Economic Area (the European Union, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland) or Switzerland.

The EHIC means you can get healthcare free or at a reduced cost in these countries if you become ill or have an accident.

You’ll have the same care as a citizen of the country you’re visiting. It might not cover everything you'd get in the NHS.

You can apply for an EHIC online or by phone on 0300 3301350.

Remember that the EHIC doesn’t cover you for costs if you need to fly home. We recommend that you take out travel insurance to cover for this, and for cancellation of your trip due to illness.

Healthcare outside Europe

You will need to pay for healthcare in most countries. So you really do need travel insurance, as this could be very expensive.

The UK has agreements with some non-European countries so that people can receive free or low cost emergency care.

Vaccinations

To visit some countries, you’ll need vaccinations before you leave. It’s a good idea to get advice about this at least 6 weeks before you travel.

Avoiding live vaccines

You shouldn’t have any live vaccines while you’re having chemotherapy, or for at least 6 months afterwards. This is because you have a weakened immune system. In the UK, these vaccines include:

  • measles
  • rubella (German measles)
  • MMR (the triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella)
  • BCG (tuberculosis)
  • yellow fever
  • oral typhoid
  • shingles (Zostavax)

Contact with people who have had vaccines

It’s safe for you to be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections. But there is a very small risk from people who’ve had live vaccines taken by mouth.

This includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus can be passed on for 2 weeks after having the vaccine. So during this time, be very careful about handwashing and avoid changing nappies if at all possible.

Another live vaccine given by mouth in the UK is the oral typhoid vaccine.

Inactivated vaccines

You can have inactivated vaccines safely. Inactivated vaccines contains a killed virus or bacteria. They might not work as well as usual if you have a weakened immune system.

Inactivated vaccines include:

  • diptheria, tetanus and polio (now only available as a combined vaccine for adults)
  • flu
  • hepatitis A and B
  • rabies
  • cholera
  • typhoid
  • meningitis
  • tick born encephalitis
  • japanese encephalitis
Check with your specialist or cancer nurse before you have any vaccinations.

Anti malaria medicines

Before you travel to a tropical country, it’s important to check whether you need an anti malaria medicine.

There are different medicines available. You start some 1 to 2 days before you travel and others 2 to 3 weeks before you leave.

You must keep taking them while you’re away and for 1 or 4 weeks afterwards, depending on the drug.

Your doctor can check the medicines are suitable for the country you’re going to and that it’s safe to take them with any other drugs you’re having.

Although these medicines are very effective, they can’t give 100% protection. So you still need to take care in these countries to avoid mosquito bites.

You should:

  • use insect repellent on your skin and in your room
  • sleep under a mosquito net that’s been treated with insecticide, if your room doesn’t have air conditioning or screens on the doors and windows
  • keep covered up with long sleeved tops and trousers, especially if you’re going out at night. You can apply DEET based insect repellents to cotton clothing

The symptoms of malaria usually develop within 4 weeks of infection.  But in some cases it can take up to a year.

The most common symptom is a high temperature. See a doctor straight away if you get ill with a fever or flu like symptoms. Tell them you’ve been to a country with a risk of malaria.

Travellers' diarrhoea

Travellers' diarrhoea is a common problem for all people going abroad, even within Europe. But you’re more at risk in tropical and developing countries.

It’s caused by having food or water that’s contaminated with bacteria or viruses, and in some cases parasites.

Symptoms include:

  • passing watery poo (stools), 3 or more times a day
  • stomach cramps
  • feeling or being sick

Symptoms are usually mild and often get better without treatment within 3 to 5 days. You’re at risk of getting dehydrated so it’s important to drink plenty.

People with a weakened immune system are more at risk of developing complications from travellers' diarrhoea.

It’s sensible to take a few basic items with you in case you get travellers' diarrhoea, such as packets of oral rehydration solution. Ask your doctor about taking anti diarrhoea medication and antibiotics with you, especially if you’re going to areas with poor sanitation and hygiene.

Taking medicines abroad

Think about any medicines you’re taking. You’ll need to plan how much you need to bring with you and get those prescriptions before you go.

It’s a good idea to take supplies for a few extra days, in case you’re delayed getting back from your trip.

You might need to make special arrangements if you’re taking any controlled drugs, such as morphine based painkillers.

Information and help

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