When not to travel

Most people who have cancer can travel without problems. But there are times when it's best not to travel. 

You might not be able to fly if you have had certain treatments. This is because of changes in pressure or the amount of oxygen in the cabin of the plane.

Always check with your doctor that you can fly. They can contact the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for advice if they are unsure. You might also need to contact the airline you are flying with.

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 or red blood cells in your blood
  • get breathless after light exercise, such as walking up a flight of stairs

If you are fit to fly but have a weak immune system some destinations might not be ideal for you. Check with your doctor or travel health clinic before booking.

Travelling 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 at least 6 months after a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Most people need to have regular check ups and might 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.

Talk to your doctor about how safe it is to travel and whether you need any vaccinations before booking the trip.

Flying if your platelets are low

Platelets are blood cells that help your blood to clot. Cancer treatment can lower your platelet count, so can increase your risk of bleeding.

If you have very low levels of platelets your doctor might advise you not to fly. Check with your team before you book.

Flying if your red blood cells are low

Red blood cells contain haemoglobin (Hb) that carries oxygen around your body. You might feel very tired and breathless if your haemoglobin level is low. This is because your blood is carrying less oxygen. 

An aeroplane cabin has a lower air pressure than outside and so less oxygen is available. This could make your breathing worse.  

Your haemoglobin level should be above 8 g/dl before you fly. You will need to check this with your doctor. You might be able to fly safely with a lower haemoglobin as long as you have oxygen during the flight.

Some airlines provide oxygen for passengers, others allow you to bring your own and some won’t let you. Before you book it’s best to make sure what the airline’s policy on oxygen is. Some airlines might also ask for an extra payment if you need oxygen. 

The European Lung Foundation have a database of airlines that list individual oxygen policies.

Check with your doctor and contact the airline as soon as possible if you need oxygen during the flight.

Flying after surgery

In general, you’ll be able to fly once you're well enough to get back to normal day to day activities. But you should always check with your doctor before planning a trip if you have had surgery recently. 

You shouldn't fly straight after bowel, chest or brain surgery. This is because you might 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 reabsorbed, 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 eye procedures, you might need to wait for 2 to 6 weeks before you can fly. Your doctor can advise you about this.

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

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