Traveling With Cancer

9 Things to Think About Before Leaving Home with Cancer

Traveling with cancer, whether for treatment or for pleasure, can be safe and enjoyable if you plan ahead. You may consider traveling to take part in a clinical trial, or perhaps, you have been putting off that trip of a lifetime and have decided the time is now.

The first step is to make an appointment and discuss your travel plans with your doctor. When is the best time to travel? Many physicians recommend not flying for 10 days after surgery, and for up to a month after chest surgery. Are there destinations she would or would not recommend?

Check out these ideas on what to consider and what to bring before you begin packing.


Medical Records

doctor writing on a form
What should you do and think about before you travel with cancer?.

It's a good idea to bring a copy of your most recent medical records with you when you travel. Asking your doctor to complete a summary of your care before leaving can make it easier for a physician unfamiliar with your history to get on board quickly if needed.

If you have been treated with chemotherapy, bring a copy of your most recent lab tests. If you are using oxygen, pack a copy of your latest oximetry readings. Ideally, you will be traveling with a companion who knows you well. If not, consider purchasing a medical alert bracelet with information on your diagnosis, and numbers to call in case of an emergency.


Health Insurance

health insurance form
Check to see if your insurance will cover you at your travel destination, and if not, consider buying travel health insurance.

Check with your insurance company before traveling out-of-state or out of the country. Will your insurance cover medical care at your destinations? Are there preferred hospitals and healthcare providers under your policy? If your insurance will cover you, are there limitations, such as a higher copay?

Pack a copy of your insurance policy and keep your insurance cards in your wallet. In some cases, you may need to purchase travel health insurance, especially if you are traveling internationally. Talk with your insurance agent to see what she recommends to make sure you are covered.



Never check your medications with your luggage. If your luggage doesn't make it, it could be a problem. Photo © Flickr user sfllaw

Make sure to bring enough medications with you to last the duration of your trip, and ask your physician to prescribe a few extras to cover you in case of a delay.

Pack your medications in your carry on bag in case your luggage is lost. Medications should be kept in their original packaging. Keep a list of all of your medications handy. If you are traveling internationally, make sure you have the generic name of your drugs listed as well as the brand name, since these can vary from country to country.


Medical Care at Your Destination

emergency room sign
Find out about doctors and hospitals at your travel destination and write down the phone numbers.

Locate doctors and hospitals (including addresses and phone numbers) near your destinations before you depart. Your oncologist may have recommendations about physicians or hospitals at the destination to which you will be traveling.

Make sure to bring your oncologist's number with you in case you need to contact her. The healthcare providers at your destination may also wish to talk to your oncologist before deciding on any treatments you need.


Air Travel

airplane in the sky
If you require injectable medications or supplemental oxygen, learn about the rules for air travel before departing. Photo © Flickr user The Shane H

If you have any special needs, check with the airlines before you travel.

Items such as syringes for medications, and FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrators (on flights carrying over 19 passengers) can be carried on board if they are deemed medically necessary and you carry a note from a physician (a special form may be required.) Learn more about the rules for traveling with oxygen on airplanes.

Discuss the ambient air pressure in air cabins with your doctor. Many small aircraft are not pressurized, and commercial cabins are pressurized to around 5000 to 8000 feet above sea level. For people with compromised lung function, significant discomfort may occur if supplemental oxygen is not readily available. Take advantage of help the airline offers such as wheelchairs and early boarding.


General Travel Health

woman walking with an umbrella
Make sure to eat well, get enough sleep, and watch out for sunburns while traveling. Photo © Flickr user ktylerconk

Getting adequate rest and eating a balanced diet are important when traveling, but a few special precautions should be considered as well:

  • Chemotherapy can affect your immune system and predispose you to infections that otherwise might not be a problem. Choose bottled water if only well water is available or you are uncertain if the water is safe. Avoid ice cubes. Learn more about lowering your risk of infection on chemotherapy.
  • Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy can make you more sensitive to sunlight. Pack protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Minimize exposure during midday, especially in tropical climates. Learn more about sun sensitivity during cancer treatment and what medications might predispose you to sunburns.
  • If you have anemia, flying and changes in elevation can worsen your symptoms. Discuss this with your doctor prior to traveling.

Coping During Travel

couple sitting on a park bench
Keep in mind that you will tire more easily when you travel with cancer. Photo © Flickr user Vagamundos

Many people return from vacation saying they need another vacation!

Keep in mind that travel can be extra tiring when you are living with cancer. Pace yourself. Leave time in your schedule so you don't feel guilty if you skip a day of exploring to rest. Discuss alternatives to your planned activities before leaving home, and write a list of the things you absolutely wish to see so that you can prioritize 

Too many of us race through vacations trying not to miss anything. This might be a good time to learn to stop and smell the roses.


Blood Clot (DVT) Prevention

Blood clot, artwork
Travel can increase your risk of blood clots with cancer. Getty Images/SCIEPRO

Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) occur far too often among travelers, and a diagnosis of cancer raises the risk. Some tips to reduce your risk include:

  • When traveling by plane, stand up at least once an hour and walk around. Many international flights actually offer a video on leg exercises to do to lower the risk of blood clots. Choose an aisle seat if possible, and ask if bulkhead seats (more legroom) are available when you make your reservations.
  • Stay well hydrated. Consider purchasing a water bottle after you go through security and drinking from it regularly during your flight. If traveling by car, keep a water bottle on hand and sip from it frequently. This may result in more stops, but more frequent stops can also reduce your risk of blood clots.
  • Ask your oncologist if you should wear compression stockings during flights and long car rides. Your doctor may recommend that you take aspirin or receive a single injection of low molecular weight heparin as a preventative measure.
  • If you develop pain, tenderness, redness, or swelling in either of your calves or legs, seek medical care right away.

International Travel

Photo © Flickr user Pedronet

Talk with your doctor if you will be traveling internationally. A few things to consider before overseas travel include:

  • Make sure the food you eat is cooked thoroughly. Peel fruits. Avoid ice, skip the raw fish and shellfish, and stick with bottled water.
  • You may need a letter from your doctor if you are taking narcotic pain medications. You will also want to make sure these are legal in the countries to which you will be traveling.
  • Keep a list of a few important words and phrases with you such as your diagnosis, and how to ask for emergency help.
  • Talk to your doctor about any immunizations that are recommended for those traveling to your destination. This can also be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website. People who are immunosuppressed due to chemotherapy or the presence of cancer in their bone marrow should avoid live vaccines due to the risk of infection. Learn more about immunizations for people with cancer, what is recommended, and precautions to take.

Bottom Line on Traveling With Cancer

Traveling with cancer can be a great way to check off items on your bucket list and take your mind off of treatment. Yet taking a moment to plan ahead can help ensure your visit goes as smoothly as possible.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources