Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Originally posted: 21st May 2021

More and more people are surviving cancer and having cancer certainly shouldn't mean you'll never get away with family and friends again. But cancer, and treatment for cancer, can definitely affect your energy levels, your chance of getting infections and more. However, with the right timing and the correct precautions, there is no reason you shouldn't be able to enjoy time away with your loved ones.

Timing is everything

While you may think the time you most need to get away from it all is when you're recovering from treatment, it may not be safe to travel too soon after surgery. Check with your medical team before you book anything.

Ask your medical team if there are certain climates you should avoid. For instance, some radiotherapy and cancer drugs can make you more sensitive to the sun.

If you're taking medication that might increase your risk of infection, you should probably avoid travelling to developing countries or anywhere outside Western Europe, the USA or Australasia. You should certainly not aim to travel to remote locations where it could take a long time to reach medical help. Clearly, if the risk is very high, you should avoid travelling until your team advise it's safe.

You don't necessarily need to wait until your course of treatment is completely finished before you go on holiday, but do speak to your team about the best time to go – for instance, once you've recovered from one course of chemotherapy but before you start the next.

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If you've had a transplant or have had chemotherapy in the last six months, you probably won't be able to have any live vaccines, such as those for yellow fever, BCG, MMR or oral typhoid vaccinations. It's essential not to risk a trip without having all the correct vaccinations – speak to your pharmacist or visit fitfortravel for the latest guidance on any destination you're considering.

Food & drink

Think about what the food is like at your destination. You may be suffering from nausea or problems swallowing or digesting food: it's important to have access to a wide range of foods you know will not disagree with you.

If you're not eating or drinking as well as usual, you may be at higher risk of dehydration if you get a tummy bug. These are more common in developing countries and staying at a smart hotel doesn't guarantee protection – flies that carry germs don't care how expensive the resort is.


Long haul travel

Long haul travel can increase the risk of a clot on the leg, called a deep vein thrombosis or DVT. This clot can break off and travel to the lungs, leading to a life-threatening pulmonary embolus or PE. Unfortunately, some cancers and cancer treatments can also increase this risk.

Speak to your medical team in advance about whether you should limit the distance you travel and any precautions you should take (such as stockings to reduce the risk of clot forming, medication etc). When you're sitting in a plane, get up regularly and move around, keep well hydrated and avoid alcohol. If travelling by car, stop regularly to stretch your legs.

Other top tips

Don't overdo it. Having cancer or cancer treatment can really take its toll on your energy levels. Plan activities with plenty of space in between to recover, and don't be afraid to duck out if you're feeling too tired.

If you're likely to need assistance at the airport, contact your travel agent or airline well in advance. This could include transfer from the car park, a wheelchair inside the terminal, assistance at security or a specific seat on the plane.

Order medication well in advance and check the regulations for travelling with certain medications. For instance, you may be taking strong opioid painkillers – bringing these into certain countries is illegal. Read our article on carrying medication abroad for the full low-down.

Do make sure you have the right travel insurance – you will need to declare any cancer you've ever had. If you don't, it could invalidate your insurance. You can find out more below:

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A pre-existing condition is a diagnosed medical condition that existed before taking out a policy. We'll ask a series of questions about the medical history for you and any travellers on your quote. If you answer yes to any of these, you will need to tell us about the traveller's conditions. This could be a condition that a traveller has now or has had in the past. If you are not sure what conditions you need to declare, we have online support available to help you 24/7!

It is simple and quick to do! After you've told us about your trip details and answered some medical history questions you can add your pre-existing conditions, one by one, for each traveller. You'll only need to enter your details once, it's all online and there's no need to call, or provide details of your conditions in writing.

Once you've declared all of your relevant pre-existing medical conditions, we'll only show you quotes based on the conditions you have told us about.

No, we are unable to provide cover with any of your pre-existing medical conditions excluded.
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