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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

You might have particular physical needs since your treatment. You might be more tired or have a higher risk of getting an infection. Or you may be more sensitive to the sun after having radiotherapy or certain cancer drugs.

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

You also need to think about when to travel. 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.

Photo of open suitcase for travelling abroad page

It’s also very important to get travel insurance in case you need medical treatment while you are away. The insurance will cover the costs for you. It will also pay for you to be flown home if you become ill.

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 are travelling by plane and need oxygen, you need to arrange this with the airline in advance. Allow plenty of time to sort it out because it can take some time. 

Help from airlines and 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 (Specialist assistance) you can contact. Let them know about any disability you have and 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
  • organising oxygen

Your doctor might need to fill out a form or a letter showing that you are well enough to fly. Ask your doctor for this about 3 weeks before you travel. 

This can all take time to arrange. So contact your doctor, travel company or airline with 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. Turkey is not within the European Union.

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 should get 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 if needed.

Protection against mosquito-borne diseases

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 the medicines while you’re away and for 1 to 4 weeks afterwards, depending on the drug.

Your doctor can check which medicines are suitable for the country you’re going to. And they can tell you if it’s safe to take them with any other drugs you’re having.

Although these medicines work very well, they can’t give 100% protection. So you still need to take care to avoid mosquito bites while you are away. Use an effective insect repellent at all times.

Mosquitoes in some countries can also carry other diseases such as dengue fever, zika and chikungunya. So using an effective insect repellent at all times can help to protect you against these diseases.

Avoiding mosquito bites

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 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

What to do if you become ill

The most common symptom of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases is a high temperature. The symptoms of malaria usually develop within 4 weeks of infection. But in some cases, it can take up to a year.

See a doctor straight away if you become ill with a fever, or flu like symptoms, after travelling abroad. Let them know where you have been.

Taking medicines abroad

Think about any medicines you’re taking. You’ll need to plan how much you need to take 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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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.