Traveling is the one thing on most people’s bucket lists, and when someone is told they have cancer, they may want to squeeze in one good trip before their treatment starts – depending on their diagnosis and whether their particular treatment plan allows for the delay. In other cases, the effects of the cancer treatment are not so severe as to stop a traveler from taking a trip.
You can get more advice, information, and tips for coping with and surviving cancer at Cancer.net, the oncologist-approved cancer information website from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Some of the most important risks that those with cancer face when traveling include the following:
One of the risks that are not often talked about is the resistance you may face with family and friends when you decide to take a trip after your diagnosis.
We can’t tell you how to handle this particular risk, but hopefully following the tips outlined here will put you in a better position to ease their minds.
As you might expect, it’s critical for a cancer patient who wants to travel to check with their doctor first for several reasons:
Ideally, by working closely with your doctor you can determine whether the trip you want to take can be successfully accomplished now or if it should wait until your treatment is completed and you’ve fully recovered.
Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and steroid therapy sometimes weaken the immune system and limit the effectiveness of vaccinations received while the cancer patient is receiving treatment and for some time after. In some cases, people with weakened immune systems are advised against receiving vaccines.
Travel to some parts of the world requires vaccinations for diseases that are prevalent in particular regions. For example, when traveling to Brazil, Peru, or Venezuela (among others) the yellow fever vaccination is recommended.
You’ll need to research whether vaccinations are required for your travel destination and speak with your doctor about whether your body can handle those vaccinations. If the vaccination for a particular region is not required – only recommended – you’ll want to know what precautions you should take to avoid getting sick while on your trip.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy make a cancer patient’s skin sensitive to sun damage. This effect may be temporary or it could be permanent, so it’s important for cancer patients and survivors to take very careful care of their skin and avoid exposure to the sun. This means:
Remember that sun exposure doesn’t only come from above. When you are on reflective snow or water, your exposure can come from below and from all sides, so protect your skin from all sides.
All prescription medications should be treated very carefully, which means keeping them with you in your carry-on, having enough to cover your trip (and a few extra days), and carrying a doctor’s note to explain the medical necessity of any special supplies like syringes, injection needles, and the like.
In addition, you’ll want to carry a copy of your prescriptions and your doctor’s contact information with you in case your medications are lost or stolen.
General health precautions cancer patients – indeed anyone with a compromised immune system – should take while traveling include the following:
Many people traveling with cancer believe they cannot get travel insurance. After all, they clearly have a pre-existing medical condition and travel insurance plans specifically exclude pre-existing medical conditions, right?
Well, yes and no. Travelers with pre-existing conditions can get coverage for their trips, including the right to cancel their trip, to interrupt their trip, and the ability to seek medical attention where they travel depending on a few factors:
A traveler with cancer may want to get a signed and dated doctor’s note indicating that you are medically stable and able to travel. See our review of pre-existing coverage to understand the terms ‘medically stable’ and ‘look-back period’.
Even if you don’t qualify as medically stable, you should consider buying a travel insurance plan anyway. After all, if you slip and break your leg getting out of a boat in Ecuador, your medical care for that situation will be covered by your travel medical coverage because it is unrelated to your medical condition.
In addition, there are many travel insurance coverages that are not affected by the pre-existing condition exclusion – and each of these may be useful to you on your trip irrespective of your condition:
If you are not medically stable and still want to travel, your best bet is to rely on your research of the destination and your doctor’s advice to stay as safe and comfortable as possible on your trip.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.