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Taking care when you are away

Coping with cancer

You may need to take extra care when you are travelling. There is information on this page about

 

Blood clots

Some people with cancer have a higher 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.

Other reasons why people with cancer may be at higher risk are

  • Their type of cancer, as some cancers have a higher DVT risk than others
  • They are taking hormone therapies that can increase risk, for example tamoxifen
  • They have had some types of cancer drugs
  • They have had surgery within the last few months
  • They may not be so mobile or active

Smoking and the contraceptive pill also increase your risk of developing a blood clot.

Sitting for long periods increases your risk of developing a blood clot so you need to take care if you are 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. Some tips to help prevent blood clots include

  • Take short walks as often as possible
  • If you can't move around much do simple leg exercises every hour, such as bending and straightening 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 may not seem possible to walk around. But it is 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 in their in-flight magazine or on the entertainment system about exercises you can do in your seat.

You can buy compression socks or stockings in chemists and at airports these days. It is important that they are the correct size for you. You usually need to measure the widest part of your calf. This is better than going by shoe size alone. 

We have more information about the risk of blood clots and cancer.

 

Infection risk

If you have had some cancer drugs, you will be at risk of infection for a few weeks after your last treatment. Most people will be fine after a few weeks. But if you have had intensive treatment, such as a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, you will 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. 

You should think carefully when choosing your destination and the type of holiday you are going to have. If you are in any doubt, talk to your specialist. And if you are travelling anywhere where you could be at risk of a tummy bug from the water supply, take the usual precautions. You should

  • 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

To help reduce risk of 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. In hot, humid climates, it is important to treat cuts and grazes straight away. Talk to your doctor about whether you need to take some antibiotics with you, for either a tummy bug or cuts and grazes.  

Remember to talk to your doctor in plenty of time before you go on holiday about what vaccinations you may need.

 

Lymphoedema

If you have swelling of part of the body (lymphoedema) and are travelling, it may become worse for a while. This is most likely to be because you won’t be moving so much during the journey. Things that may help include

  • Talking to your doctor about taking antibiotics with you, in case you get an infection
  • Wearing a well fitting elastic (compression) sleeve or stocking when travelling
  • Wearing loose clothing
  • Keeping the affected arm or leg raised, if possible
  • Exercising at least every hour
  • Avoiding extremes of temperature – if possible keep cool
  • Avoiding sunburn
  • Looking after your skin – keep it clean and moisturised
  • Avoiding insect bites – use an insect repellent
  • Cleaning cuts and grazes with antiseptic and covering them
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Not overdoing it when you are away – do the same amount of exercise as you would normally

You may wish to wear a medical alert bracelet to show that you have or are at risk of lymphoedema. This alerts health professionals not to 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 is not good for anyone. But after some cancer treatments your skin may be more sensitive to the sun than the average person. Your skin may also be drier. And it may be more sensitive to chemicals, such as chlorine in swimming pools.

You should talk to your specialist about whether your treatment will make you more sensitive than anyone else.

Cancer drugs that make your skin more sensitive to sun include

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

After radiotherapy, the skin in the treatment area will remain sensitive for many years. Keep it covered for the first year. And you will need to continue to protect it for many years after that.

To protect your skin you should

  • 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

There is more information about protecting yourself in the sun on the Cancer Research UK SunSmart Campaign website.

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Updated: 8 July 2014