Traveling With Cancer
by Michelle Badash, MS
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
Checking With Your Doctor
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 of treatment or chemotherapy. Your doctor’s opinion on when and whether you should travel is very important. If your doctor recommends against travel, be sure you understand the reasons for that recommendation.
Choosing Your Destination
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.
Researching Important Numbers
If you are traveling abroad, bring the emergency numbers for each city you will be visiting, as well as the numbers for the American consulate and embassy.
You should also ask your doctor for referrals to medical centers where the staff speak English. 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 patients with cancer. People with cancer who are receiving immunosuppressive therapies (eg, chemotherapy, immunotherapy) should not receive live vaccines, and inactivated vaccines may produce a weaker response, thus diminishing effectiveness.
Patients 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 six months after the last treatment. It is possible that previous immunity is lost during treatment.
Getting Medical Documentation
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.
Packing Your Medications
The following preparations will help you, as well as medical and airline personnel:
Checking Your Health Insurance
During Travel TOP
In the Air
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.
Cancer patients are susceptible to blood clots, so walking around once every hour to increase circulation is encouraged. Your doctor may also recommend 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 eight 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 http://www.tsa.gov/ 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.
On the Ground
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.
When Traveling for Treatment TOP
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 http://www.joeshouse.org/ also provides information about lodging for people undergoing cancer treatment.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
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Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 12/27/2012