People who are actively undergoing cancer therapies or whose immune systems or overall health has been compromised by cancer treatments may choose to travel for a variety of reasons: business, vacation, even treatment. The key to traveling with cancer is to make travel preparations that will promote comfort, safeguard your health, and maintain your treatment goals as much as possible. Here are some tips to help make your trip smoother.
Before you travel, be sure to discuss your plans with your doctor. This is especially important if you have recently been diagnosed with cancer or are still suffering side effects ofchemotherapy or other treatment. Your doctor’s opinion on when and whether you should travel is important. If your doctor advises against travel, be sure you understand the reasons. Consider alternative ideas if your doctor vetoes your travel plans.
Vacationers should carefully consider potential health hazards when choosing a destination. Think about what kind of medical care is at your destination. You want to make sure that you can get care if you need it.
Plan ahead and get what you need ahead of time, such as extra leg room on a plane or a first-floor hotel room. You may also have to plan around your treatment regimen.
If you are traveling abroad, bring the emergency numbers for each city you will be visiting, as well as the numbers for the consulate and embassy.
You should also ask your doctor for referrals to medical centers where the staff speak the same language as you and/or your traveling companion. In addition, it would be helpful if you and your traveling companion learn important words in the country's language. Words such as doctor, hospital, and cancer can help you to get assistance faster in an emergency.
Check vaccination requirements. Some vaccines needed for entry into certain countries may be contraindicated for those with cancer. People with cancer who are receiving immunosuppressive therapies, like chemotherapy or immunotherapy, should not receive live vaccines. Inactivated vaccines may produce a weaker response, thus reducing effectiveness.
Those who had their spleen removed will have lower resistance to infection as well. In some cases, it may require traveling with antibiotics or avoidance of certain areas where an infection (like malaria) is common.
In some cancer treatments (like bone marrow or stem cell transplants), revaccination may be required 6 months after the last treatment. It is possible that previous immunity is lost during treatment.
Before your trip, contact your doctor to obtain the following:
You may also want to get a medical alert bracelet to inform people that you have cancer.
The following preparations will help you, as well as medical and airline personnel:
A risk for all airline travelers on long flights is developing deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the lower body, primarily the legs. The clot can migrate to the lungs causing potentially catastrophic complications, including pulmonary embolism or death.
People with cancer may be more susceptible to blood clots, so walking around once every hour to increase circulation is encouraged. Your doctor may also advise taking a blood thinner before the flight and wearing compression stockings. Discuss this with your doctor especially if you will be on a flight for longer than 8 hours.
Also, while you are on the plane, remember to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of bottled water. It is also a good idea to bring meal replacement drinks and snacks in case you will not be served a meal on the plane. In general, you are able to bring food items that are wrapped through the security checkpoint. There may be restrictions however, and you should arrive well ahead of schedule in case of long lines. Before you leave, check the Transportation Security Administrations website for information on food and drink restrictions, and traveling with a medical condition.
Remember, too, that if you do not feel well on the plane, alert the crew right away. They are trained to assist in medical emergencies.
When you arrive at your destination, take these precautions to optimize your stay:
Once you return home, you should see your doctor for a check-up. Make this appointment before you leave for your destination.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you have any unusual symptoms. These may even occur months after you return. In some cases, you may need to see a doctor who specializes in travel medicine.
Sometimes travel is not due to vacation or business—it is simply a necessity to obtain treatment. If treatment is distant and costly for you, there are organizations that provide help when traveling for appointments. Some examples include:
The website Joe's House also provides information about lodging for people undergoing cancer treatment.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Avery RK. Immunization in adult immunocompromised patients: which to use, and which to avoid. Cleve Clin J Med. 2001;68:337-348.
Deep vein thrombosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T133588/Deep-vein-thrombosis-DVT. Updated July 29, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2016.
Eat right and stay active while traveling. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/features/eat-right-and-stay-active-while-traveling. Updated December 12, 2012. Accessed October 26, 2016.
Perdue C, Noble S. Foreign travel for advanced cancer patients: A guide for healthcare professionals. Postgrad Med J. 2007;83(981):437-444.
Traveling with cancer. American Society of Clinical Oncology website. Available at: http://www.cancer.net/blog/2014-07/traveling-cancer. Updated July 3, 2014. Accessed October 26, 2016.
Traveling with cancer. Cancer Treatment Centers of America website. Available at: http://www.cancercenter.com/community/newsletter/may-2009. Accessed October 26, 2016.
Last reviewed October 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 12/10/2014