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Preparing for your trip

For many people, cancer and treatment won’t affect where or how they travel. For others there may be issues that they need to think about. Your physical needs may be different since you had treatment. You may be more tired or at more risk of getting an infection. There could also be practical issues to think about, such as how you are going to get there.

There is more information about these and other issues in the how cancer and its treatment might affect travelling section.

You also need to think about when you make your trip. There are times when you shouldn’t travel. You shouldn’t fly too soon after surgery, for instance. There is more about this and other issues in our when not to travel page. It is worth talking to your doctor or nurse about your travel plans so they can help advise you. 

 

Travel insurance

People can find it more difficult to get travel insurance after treatment for cancer, especially when they are going to countries outside Europe. We have information about travel insurance and cancer in this section, including a list of companies that may be willing to cover people with cancer.

Please note - we take every effort to keep our travel insurance page up to date. But insurance companies come and go and change their rules. We can’t guarantee that the companies we list will insure you. We offer the list in good faith, in the hope that it will be of some help. If you have any information to feed back to us, please click on ‘contact us’ at the right hand side of any page.

 

Your journey

Your cancer or treatment may affect how you travel. 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. However you are travelling, you will need to think about how long it will take and whether you can manage the journey comfortably. 

There is more about this and other issues in our page on taking care of yourself on your trip.

If you are travelling by plane and will need oxygen, you need to arrange this with the airline in advance. We have information about having oxygen on holiday in our question and answer section.

 

Help from travel companies

Travel companies and some airlines have a medical officer who can give advice about your journey. Almost all airlines will have advice on their website or will have a customer service department you can contact. You should let them know about

  • Any disability you have
  • Any special needs you have
  • Any equipment you might need

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

  • Early boarding and finding a suitable seat on the plane
  • Special diets
  • Wheelchairs
  • Transfers to and from the airport
  • Oxygen

Your doctor may need to complete a form to show that you are fit and well enough to fly. This can all take time to arrange so it is worth contacting your travel company or airline for advice in plenty of time before your holiday.

 

Health care in Europe

If you are going to a country within the European Economic Area (the EU, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland) or Switzerland, you should get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This replaced the old E111 form. If you become unwell or have an accident, this card allows you to get health care free, or at a reduced cost, in these countries. The care you will have is the same as a citizen of the country you are visiting. It may not cover everything you would get in the NHS. You can find out which European countries are included on the NHS Choices website.

You can apply for an EHIC online or by phone on 0845 606 2030.

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. You can find out more about travel insurance in this section.

 

Health care 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 countries so that people can receive free or low cost emergency care. There is a list of non European countries we have a health care agreement with on the NHS Choices website.

 

Vaccinations

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

You should not have any live vaccines during a course of chemotherapy or for at least 6 months afterwards. This is because your immune system has been weakened. Live vaccines contain a small amount of live virus or bacteria that has been altered, so you don’t normally get the infection. But if you have a weakened immune system they could be harmful.

If you have a weakened immune system you should not have the following vaccines

  • Measles
  • Rubella (German Measles)
  • MMR (the triple vaccine for Measles, Mumps and Rubella)
  • BCG (Tuberculosis)
  • Yellow Fever
  • Oral Typhoid
  • Shingles (Zostavax)

Babies and children who've had routine childhood vaccinations in the UK are generally no risk to you at all. There is a very small risk from people who’ve had live vaccines by mouth. There is only one oral live vaccine given to children as part of the routine vaccination programme in the UK. That is the rotavirus vaccine, which babies have at around 8 and 12 weeks of age. Rotavirus is a very common diarrhoea and vomiting bug. There is no official advice about avoiding contact with babies who have had this vaccine. It is live but a very weakened form of the virus. Public Health England say it is safer to give the vaccine to babies living in a household with someone who has a weakened immune system. If they don't have it, they are more likely to pick up the infection which would be a greater risk to you.  The virus can be passed on for 2 weeks after having the vaccine. So during this time, be very careful about hygiene and avoid changing  nappies if at all possible.

The oral typhoid vaccine is currently the only other live vaccine given by mouth in the UK.

You can have inactivated vaccines safely. Inactivated vaccines contains a killed virus or bacteria.

If you have a weakened immune system, inactivated vaccines may not work as well as they would when your immune system is working normally. They include

  • Diphtheria, tetanus and polio (now only available as a combined vaccine for adults)
  • Flu
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Rabies
  • Cholera
  • Typhoid Injection
  • Meningitis
  • Tick borne encephalitis
  • Japanese encephalitis

Check with your specialist before you have any vaccinations.

 

Antimalarial medicines

It is important to check before you travel to a tropical country if you need to take an antimalarial medicine. There are a number of different medicines available. You start some 1 to 2 days before you travel and others 2 to 3 weeks before you leave. You must continue to take them while you are away and for 1 or 4 weeks afterwards, depending on the drug. Your doctor can check the medicines are suitable for the country you are going to and that they do not interact with other drugs you may be taking.

Although these medicines are very effective, they cannot 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 has been treated with insecticide if your room has no air conditioning or screening on the doors or windows
  • Keep covered up with long sleeved tops and trousers, especially if you are going out at night. You can apply deet based repellents to cotton clothing

The symptoms of malaria usually develop within 4 weeks of infection, but in some cases it may take up to a year. The most common symptom is a high temperature. If you become ill with a fever or flu like symptoms, you should see a doctor straight away and tell them that you have 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 the risk is higher in tropical and developing countries. It is caused by having food or water which is contaminated with bacteria or viruses, and in some cases parasites. Symptoms include

  • Passing watery 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. There is a risk of dehydration and so it is important you drink plenty of fluids. People with a weakened immune system are more at risk of developing complications from travellers' diarrhoea.

It is sensible to take a few basic items with you on holiday in case you get travellers' diarrhoea, such as oral rehydration solution sachets. Ask your doctor about taking anti diarrhoea medication and antibiotics with you, particularly if you are going to areas with poor standards of hygiene.

We have information about reducing your risk of travellers' diarrhoea on the page about taking care when you are away.

 

Taking medicines abroad

If you are taking any medicines, you will need to plan how much you need to bring with you and get those prescriptions before you go. It is a good idea to take a few extra days supply in case there are any delays getting back from your holiday. If you are taking any controlled drugs, such as morphine based painkillers, you may need to make special arrangements. There is more information about this on our page about taking medicines abroad.

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Updated: 8 August 2013