12/24/2009 03:25 PM Posted by:

Traveling With Cancer


Traveling, especially during the holiday season, can sometimes seem overwhelming to a person living with cancer. In addition to the usual holiday travel headaches, there are important health issues to consider before leaving town.

The key to safe traveling is to plan ahead and prepare for any special travel needs. This means talking with the doctor about your medical condition to know whether it is safe to travel. If it is safe, discuss any limitations with the doctor (for example, no traveling by plane). Consider these issues before finalizing travel plans:

Flying. Some people with cancer may not fly because oxygen levels and air pressure change at high altitudes. For example, a person who is at risk for developing increased swelling in the brain because of a brain tumor may be advised not to fly. Also, avoid air travel for 10 days after surgery since this can bring gas into the body that may expand to cause pain and stretch the incision wound.

Changes in the air pressure during a flight can also trigger swelling of a part of the body, called lymphedema, in those who have had lymph nodes removed.

Long journeys. A person with cancer, particularly lung, stomach, or bowel cancer, and those who have recently had surgery, may not be able to take an extended trip that requires sitting for a long time because of the increased risk of developing blood clots called thromboses. An airline passenger already has an increased risk of blood clotting associated with flying. Read what to know about the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO’s) guideline on preventing and treating blood clots.

Energy level. Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, cause a person to feel fatigued easily during and after treatment. This fatigue may limit the length and pace of the trip.

Sun exposure. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can make skin temporarily or permanently more sensitive to sun damage. Take this into consideration if traveling to a beach destination or if you will be spending a lot of time outdoors. The sun also reflects off of snow and can be harmful if the skin is left exposed. Learn more about protecting your skin from the sun.

Vaccinations. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and steroid therapy weaken the immune system and may limit the use and effectiveness of vaccinations that are required to travel to some parts of the world. For example, people with weakened immune systems may be advised against receiving live vaccines, such as measles or yellow fever. Inactivated vaccines, such as hepatitis B and cholera, may also be less effective.

Check out insurance options. Since some health insurance providers may not cover people who travel outside of the United States, it's important to find out if there's a need to purchase travel health insurance. Don't forget to bring the insurance policies on the trip. Talk with the travel agent or insurance company well before the trip for information on travel insurance.

Travel costs. Expect travel costs to rise if there are special travel arrangements required for a person with cancer. Potential costs may include travel expenses for an escort and the costs of bringing medical equipment on the trip.

Preparing for travel

If your doctor has said it’s OK for you to travel, consider these tips:

Take special care of medications. All prescription medications should be kept in carry-on baggage, instead of a suitcase that may be lost or stolen or inaccessible (for example, in the plane's cargo area) for an extended time. If possible, bring extra supplies of medications in case the return trip is delayed by a few days. Keep the medications in their original containers to avoid drug mix-ups and to show customs officials.

Take health precautions. To reduce the risk of blood clotting during long trips, get up and walk around at least once every hour to increase circulation. Ask the doctor if aspirin or other medications would be helpful before the trip.

It may be necessary for those who have lymphedema to wear a compression garment while traveling to reduce the chance of swelling of the arms or legs. Try to gently exercise the arms and legs and move around as much as possible during the journey.

Be aware of germs while traveling. Wash your hands often, use hand sanitizers or wipes, and be careful of unwashed food or food that has been sitting out, such as food from a buffet. Learn more about food safety during and after cancer treatment.

Carry medical information. Ask the doctor to write a summary of your medical/drug instructions, any allergies, and diagnosis and treatment plan. Keep this summary, and other emergency information (for example, emergency contact phone numbers), on hand during the trip. Also, ask the doctor to provide you with a medication schedule if you need to take a medication at a specific time and are traveling across time zones.

Get help from the travel company. If you are arranging your trip through a travel agency, work with the agency before the trip to arrange special accommodations, such as early boardings, meal restrictions, and help getting from one place to another (for example, a wheelchair). Find out if the travel company has a medical officer who can help with special needs. Or, consider traveling with a companion.

Take it easy. Remember that traveling can be physically exhausting. Schedule some regular rest periods to help reduce fatigue. Try to relax and enjoy the trip.

More Information

When to Call the Doctor During Cancer Treatment

The Importance of Hydration

Managing Your Care

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