Alberta Cancer Foundation

Expert Advice on Travelling With Cancer

Maju Garg. Illustration by Jennifer Madole

 

A cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean you have to put away your suitcase permanently. While there may be some extra considerations, many cancer patients are still able to travel. Carlyn Volume-Smith, acting executive director, pharmaceuticals and supplementary health benefits at Alberta Health, and Manju Garg, pharmacy educator at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, offer their tips for ensuring your next trip goes smoothly.

 

Can people living with cancer travel?

Carlyn Volume-Smith: Most people can travel safely and not have any incidents. The main thing is to be working closely with your physician to ensure you’re fit to travel before you book a holiday. I think having a strong relationship with your clinician and being able to have a frank discussion about whether you can, and what precautions you should take, is key.

What are some of the risks of travelling with cancer?

Manju Garg: Some patients can be at a higher risk of infection due to treatments they are receiving. There’s also an increased risk of blood clots, as patients may be sitting in cramped conditions for a long period of time.

What can be done to mitigate risks while en route to a destination?

MG: It’s important to get up and move around on a regular basis, about every hour or so, to reduce the risk of blood clots. Patients should also stay hydrated with non-alcoholic drinks and do regular leg exercises.

What about once you arrive at the destination?

MG: It’s really important to stay hydrated with clean water. Patients may have to avoid tap water and ice, depending on their destination, and instead drink boiled or bottled water. We also advise patients to wear sun protection, practice good hand-washing techniques, make good food choices, avoid insect bites and plan for rest time. It’s also really important that patients don’t ignore symptoms while travelling. If they’re feeling sick, they need to seek medical attention. Finally, it is imperative for patients to check if they can receive any necessary vaccinations or travel-related medications prior to reaching their destination.

What should travellers know when it comes to medication?

CV-S: Planning is key. Make sure you have enough medication to last for the whole trip, plus a few extra days. It’s worth taking a doctor’s letter with you, or copies of prescriptions listing the drugs that you’re taking and the doses. That can help if you need to go see a doctor while you’re away. It’s also worthwhile to inquire with the airline about any restrictions and requirements when it comes to medication and oxygen, and try to travel with your medication in the original bottle.

When should patients absolutely not travel?

CV-S: You should think twice about travelling if you have low platelets, low red blood cells, or if you’ve had recent surgery or a stem cell transplant within the last few months. Work with your doctor to see if it’s okay to travel or if there is an appropriate time-frame to wait until travelling post-procedure. And don’t ever travel against medical advice.

What should patients consider when it comes to travel insurance?

CV-S: Always ensure you have travel insurance and double-check your policy. There are some plans that only cover medical costs incurred out of country. So, if you travel to a different province and require medical care that isn’t covered under the Canada Health Act, you could actually be required to make that payment. And most plans won’t cover any medical expense incurred when you travel against medical advice. So again, it’s back to working with your doctor, knowing what your conditions are, making sure that you have appropriate travel insurance and knowing what your plans’ limits and restrictions are.