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When not to travel

You might not be able to travel when you have certain cancers or cancer treatments – check with your doctor.

Most people who have had cancer can travel without problems.

But there are times when it’s best not to fly. This is because of changes in pressure or the amount of oxygen in the cabin of the plane.

Check with your doctor that you can fly. They can contact the Aviation Health Unit for advice if they are unsure. You might also need to contact the airline you are flying with.

You should always get advice before travelling if you:

  • have had any kind of surgery recently, including keyhole surgery (laparoscopy)
  • have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the last 6 to 12 months
  • have a low level of platelets in your blood
  • get breathless after light exercise, such as walking up a flight of stairs

Flying after surgery

If you’ve had surgery recently, check with your surgeon before planning your trip. In general, you’ll be able to fly once you're well enough to get back to normal day to day activities.

You need to contact your airline before your trip if you’ll need help with your luggage or getting around the airport.

You should not fly straight after bowel, chest or brain surgery. This is because you may have air trapped in your body. When you fly, the air can expand and cause an increase in pressure inside your body.

You'll be able to fly once the air has been re-absorbed, normally after 7 to 10 days. You might be able to fly sooner than this if you had keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery.

For some types of procedures to the eye, you may need to wait 2 to 6 weeks before you can fly. Your doctor can advise you about this.

Travel after a bone marrow or stem cell transplant

Immediately after a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, you’re more at risk of picking up an infection.

Doctors usually advise against going abroad for the first 6 months. Most people need to have regular check ups and may need blood transfusions during this time. Once your blood counts have gone back to normal, you’ll be able to travel. This is usually within a year of your transplant.

If you want to travel, talk to your doctor about how safe it is for you to go and ask if you need any vaccinations.

Flying if your platelets are low

Platelets are blood cells that help your blood to clot. Cancer treatment can lower your platelet count.

Your platelet count should be above 40,000 per cubic ml of blood before you fly. You'll need to check this with your doctor.

Flying if you're breathless

There are many causes of breathlessness. Some of them may be caused by the cancer itself or your treatment.

Less oxygen is available in an aircraft because the air pressure inside is lower than on the ground. This could make your breathing worse. 

Your doctor might be able to treat the cause of your breathlessness before you fly. Or you may be able to fly safely as long as you have extra oxygen to breathe during the flight.

Your airline might ask for an extra payment if you need oxygen for your flight. You should check with your doctor or contact the airline for advice.

Last reviewed: 
08 Jul 2014
  • Assessing Fitness to Fly
    Civil Aviation Authority, May 2012

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