Travelling with cancer

Travelling with a long-term condition such as cancer isn’t straightforward, but many difficulties can be avoided with good planning.

Discuss your travel plans with your doctor to assess whether you're fit to travel.

Different types of cancer have different treatments and often require you to take specific precautions when you travel.

Health experts advise preparing for a trip four to six weeks before you travel.

Things to consider as part of your preparation include:

Air travel

Under current security restrictions, you cannot carry containers with liquids, gels or creams that exceed 100ml in your hand luggage.

You can carry essential medicines of more than 100ml on board, but you’ll need prior approval from the airline and airport and a letter from your doctor or a prescription.

All medicines taken on board should be in their original packaging, with the prescription label and contact details of the pharmacy clearly visible.

See the Directgov website for more information on air travel hand baggage rules.

Flying may not be advisable if you're always short of breath, anaemic, at risk of brain swelling, have had recent surgery or have problems with your ears or sinuses.

Long-haul travel, especially by air, can increase your risk of developing a blood clot in your legs (deep vein thrombosis or DVT).

Some people with cancer, particularly some types of lung, stomach and bowel cancer, have a higher risk of DVT.

See your doctor before you travel and read our tips on preventing flight-related DVT, which include exercises and compression stockings.

Travel vaccinations

If your destination requires you to have vaccinations, check with your doctor before you book your trip whether it’s safe for you to have them.

Some travel vaccines cannot be taken or may be less effective if you have a particular type of cancer or cancer treatment.

If you’ve had chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, you may have your lost immunity to diseases that you were previously vaccinated against. Therefore, you may need new jabs.

Travelling with medicines

Take enough medicines to last throughout your trip plus some extra in case of delays.

If you’re going on a long trip, check if you can get your medicines in the country you’re travelling to.

If you need to keep medicines cool, buy a small cool bag from a pharmacy for the journey. Check whether your room at your destination has a fridge.

Keep a list of all your medicines (including the generic names) and doses in your purse or wallet, just in case you lose any of them or you run out.

Travelling across time zones can affect when you take regular medicines. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you plan adjusting the times of your medicines.

Find out if you need a letter from your GP explaining to customs officers your need to carry certain medicines, syringes or portable medicine pumps.

Some GPs charge for writing a letter, so if you travel frequently, ask them to write it in such a way that it can be used more than once.

Travel insurance

Getting travel insurance when you have had cancer can be very difficult. It’s a good idea to start looking for cover before you’ve booked your holiday.

Get advice from your GP before purchasing an insurance policy. They will be able to help you answer the medical questions about your health. 

For travel in Europe, make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to reduced-cost and sometimes free medical treatment.

Take out travel insurance as well because an EHIC may not cover all the costs of your treatment. An EHIC doesn't cover the cost of being flown back to the UK.

Macmillan Cancer Support has information about finding travel insurance if you have cancer.

Page last reviewed: 26/05/2014

Next review due: 26/05/2016

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