Traveling During Cancer Treatment

“Can I travel between immunotherapy treatments?”

“Is an airplane safe after chemo?”

“How do I bring my medications through airport security?”

If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced skin cancer, you may have questions about traveling. Traveling can be unpredictable, and sometimes stressful, even without the side effects of cancer treatments. Before booking your next vacation or flying to a family event, consider these tips for traveling during cancer treatment.

Ask your healthcare providers if travel is safe for you

While some patients are able to travel between treatments (including travel by plane), talk to your healthcare provider before scheduling any trips. Based on your treatment plan and reaction to treatments, you and your provider can determine the safest way to travel, and what limitations you may have. After surgery, for example, your doctor may recommend that you wait a certain number of weeks before traveling, or avoid air travel due to changes in air pressure during flights. During cancer treatment, certain factors (such as swelling, increased risk of blood clots, and low platelet or red blood cell counts) may also impact your ability to travel safely.

Learn about travel vaccinations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends travel vaccines for visits to certain foreign countries. However, if you are undergoing cancer treatments, it may be unsafe for you to receive these vaccines.Before visiting a travel clinic or leaving the country, be sure to talk to your primary health care providers about what precautions you should take.

Follow these steps for medication-friendly packing

  • Always pack your medications in easily-accessible, carry-on bags (rather than your checked or stowed luggage). According to TSA regulations, travelers can bring all medically-necessary medications and supplies in their carry-on luggage. These items do not need to follow the typical 3-1-1 liquids rule.
  • To expedite airport security, pack all medications in a separate bag or compartment, so they that can be easily removed and searched.
  • If you are traveling with syringes, ice-packs, and/or a sharps container, you may want to fill-out a TSA Notification Card. When you get to security, you can give this card to the TSA agent, or simply tell them that you are carrying necessary medical supplies.
  • To reduce delays at airport security or border patrol, be sure that all medications are labelled, ideally with the original prescription labels. Try to pack all medications in the original pill bottle or packaging.
  • If you’re traveling with temperature-sensitive medications (such as injections), consider purchasing ice packs and a medication travel bag to keep your medications cool throughout your journey. If you’re staying in a motel/hotel, always call ahead and request a mini-fridge.3,4

Carry paperwork describing your medical needs

When traveling, bring a letter from your doctor; this letter should outline your condition and need for any medications and medical equipment, especially if you have a medication port or other implanted device. You should also bring copies of all prescriptions, as well as your provider’s contact information. These documents may help to avoid delays at airport security, or if you need medical attention during your travels.

Plan ahead

If you’re traveling during cancer treatment, plan ahead by researching local medical care. Before leaving home, locate medical facilities and hospitals near your destination, and check if your insurance would cover medical care received during your trip. Especially for international travel, many patients purchase travel insurance to cover unexpected hospitalizations, out-of-network medical care, missed or cancelled flights, medical evacuation, and other travel changes or disruptions.1 In case of travel delays, also be sure to bring extra copies of prescriptions and extra medication (if possible) to ensure that you don’t run out of your medications while away from home.2

Treatment side effects & travel

While every person reacts differently to cancer treatments, you may be thinking about the common side effects of chemotherapy or immunotherapy.5,6 Here are some ideas for managing the side effects of cancer treatment during travel:

Nausea and diarrhea
Before traveling, ask your healthcare provider about anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea products that are safe for you. For airplane travel, try to reserve an aisle seat near the lavatory for easy access to the bathroom.

Decreased appetite
To stay energized during long travel days, consider packing high calorie and high protein snacks, such as nuts, granola bars, and protein bars. If you’re feeling nauseous or dealing with poor appetite, your favorite healthy snacks may seem more appealing than airplane meals or highway fast food.

Risk of infection
Chemotherapy can increase your risk of developing infections.5 During travel, stay healthy through frequent hand-washing, using hand sanitizer, purchasing bottled water, and/or wearing a mask. To avoid airplane germs, you should also wear socks when going through airport security, and bring your own headphones, pillow, and/or blanket for the plane. If recommended by your doctor, you can also take Vitamin C supplements to boost your immune system, and keep your nasal passages moist (with a saline nasal spray) to protect you from infections.7

Travel can be tiring, especially when your managing the fatigue-inducing effects of chemotherapy or immunotherapy. In addition to staying energized and hydrated with healthy snacks and lots of water, be sure to get plenty of sleep during your travels, and stop and rest when necessary. When planning your trip, decide what travel options will be least tiring for you (a direct flight versus a connection, or a train rather than a bus), and rest if you feel yourself becoming fatigued.

While many people experience travel-induced constipation, patients receiving chemotherapy or immunotherapy may be more likely to experience constipation.8 To keep yourself regular, be sure to drink plenty of water, eat high-fiber foods, get plenty of rest, and stay physically active (especially during long flights or car rides).

Sun sensitivity
During immunotherapy or chemotherapy treatments, many patients are more sensitive to sunlight, and tend to burn easily.9 While traveling, be sure to apply sunscreen, avoid or limit direct sun exposure, and wear protective clothing to cover your skin.

Before getting away, meet with your healthcare provider to determine the safest travel options, and develop a plan to manage treatment side effects. While travel can be tiring, a vacation or even just a short trip away may also help you to take your mind off of your cancer treatments, so enjoy it! If your travels take you away from your loved ones, you can also connect with the Skin Cancer Community for support and guidance- no matter where you are!

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