Traveling With Cancer
People who are actively undergoing cancer therapies or whose immune systems or overall health has been compromised by cancer treatments may choose to travel for a variety of reasons: business, vacation, even treatment. The key to traveling with cancer is to make travel preparations that will promote comfort, safeguard your health, and maintain your treatment goals as much as possible. Here are some tips to help make your trip smoother.
Before You Travel
Checking With Your DoctorBefore you travel, be sure to discuss your plans with your doctor. This is especially important if you have recently been diagnosed with cancer or are still suffering side effects ofchemotherapy or other treatment. Your doctor’s opinion on when and whether you should travel is very important. If your doctor recommends against travel, be sure you understand the reasons for that recommendation. Consider alternative ideas if your doctor vetoes your travel plans.
Choosing Your DestinationVacationers should carefully consider potential health hazards when choosing a destination. Think about what kind of medical care is at your destination. You want to make sure that you can get care if you need it.
- If you are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, avoid sun-intensive locations, as certain treatments can make the skin highly sensitive to sunlight. Check with your doctor about precautions you should take when exposed to the sun.
- If your treatment has resulted in severe anemia, check with your doctor before flying or visiting high-altitude locations.
Researching Important NumbersIf you are traveling abroad, bring the emergency numbers for each city you will be visiting, as well as the numbers for the American consulate and embassy.You should also ask your doctor for referrals to medical centers where the staff speak the same language as you and/or your traveling companion. In addition, it would be helpful if you and your traveling companion learn important words in the country's language. Words such as doctor, hospital, and cancer can help you to get assistance faster in an emergency.
Getting VaccinatedCheck vaccination requirements. Some vaccines needed for entry into certain countries may be contraindicated for those with cancer. People with cancer who are receiving immunosuppressive therapies, like chemotherapy or immunotherapy, should not receive live vaccines. Inactivated vaccines may produce a weaker response, thus diminishing effectiveness.Those who had their spleen removed will have lower resistance to infection as well. In some cases, it may require traveling with antibiotics or avoidance of certain areas where an infection (like malaria) is common.In some cancer treatments (like bone marrow or stem cell transplants), revaccination may be required six months after the last treatment. It is possible that previous immunity is lost during treatment.
Getting Medical DocumentationBefore your trip, contact your doctor to obtain the following:
- A letter from your doctor on hospital stationary describing your diagnosis and treatment plan
- A recent prescription signed by your doctor in case you need a refill
- Copies of your most recent blood tests and lab test results
- Contact information of your doctor (name, address, emergency number, and office phone and fax number)
Packing Your MedicationsThe following preparations will help you, as well as medical and airline personnel:
- Keep your medicine in the original prescription bottles, which includes the prescription date, pharmacy, and physician name.
- Bring an ample supply of your primary medicines, as well as any necessary medicines to treat side effects.
- Before traveling, discuss with your doctor whether you need to take long-term antibiotic therapy to protect you from bacterial infection, such as diarrhea, which can seriously affect your health.
- Keep a list of all your medicines, including dosages and dosing schedules, and any drug allergies. If you are traveling with a companion, provide him with a copy.
Checking Your Health Insurance
- Before you leave, check with your health insurance company to determine whether your plan will cover health costs incurred while traveling. If not, you should purchase travel health insurance.
- You may also want to consider purchasing emergency medical evacuation insurance. If you have a medical emergency, the costs of obtaining an emergency flight or ambulance may be expensive, and services may need to be paid in cash.