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Travelling abroad

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When thinking about travelling abroad, a lot will depend on where you want to go and what you want to do. A few relaxing days on the beach in Spain is a very different holiday to back-packing across Asia.

As a general guide, you will probably be safe to travel 6-12 months after your transplant. However, it will depend on how well your own recovery is going, so you should always talk through your plans with your medical team to get their advice. 

You might find it easier to go on a few shorter trips or city breaks first, to see how you handle things, before booking a longer holiday.

Before you travel to any country you should consider the possible risk and the precautions you might need to take. The FIT for Travel and Travel Health Pro websites are good starting points for general travel and vaccination advice for every country in the world. You should also talk to your GP or medical team about your plans, so they can give you the most up to date and specific advice possible.   

We went on a family holiday to France eight years post-transplant and had a wonderful time. We carried a note in French of my husband's transplant in case of an accident and a blood transfusion was required. Everything went smoothly and we have been back again!

Kate, whose husband had a stem cell transplant

Vaccinations

During your transplant, your immune system is replaced, and you will need to have a new course of vaccinations to protect against common childhood illnesses like measles. Your GP or medical team will arrange these vaccinations for you.

If you travel to certain parts of the world, there’s a higher risk of picking up illnesses that aren’t normally found in the UK. So, you might need extra vaccines to protect you. This is often the case when travelling to parts of Africa, South America and Asia.

Vaccinations can take a few months to start working properly so you will need to talk to your team in advance, otherwise you may have to delay your plans until it’s safe for you to travel.

Vaccines work by tricking your body into thinking it has come into contact with the real virus or bacteria that causes the illness. They make your immune system react, start producing antibodies and build up your immunity. So if you encounter the infection again, it can’t harm you and make you ill. Vaccines are made from viruses or bacteria that have either been killed or modified to make them safe.

Any vaccine based on a virus or bacteria that is still alive can cause complications when given to people with weakened immune systems, like stem cell transplant patients. As a result, certain vaccines won’t be suitable for you, which could limit the countries you can safely travel to. 

Travel insurance

People with a diagnosis of cancer, or who experience ongoing health concerns, often find it difficult to find suitable travel insurance. You may have to pay more for your cover upfront or have a larger excess to pay if you claim. Some companies may even refuse to insure you. 

It’s always best to be honest and upfront about your situation so you have the peace of mind of being covered properly – just in case something goes wrong. If you are travelling outside the UK and need medical care, it could cost thousands of pounds so adequate insurance is essential.

Although we can’t recommend individual insurance providers, we do suggest that you shop around for the best deal and make lots of informal enquires. You might find some of the following helpful:

  • An insurance broker can do your search for you. They will be able to find suitable policies based on your individual needs. The broker may charge a fee for their service, so check before you ask them to start. Also check that your broker is registered to the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA).
  • Many cancer patients have talked about their experience of finding good travel insurance on charity forum webpages like Macmillan. Cancer Research UK lists insurance companies and brokers that have been recommended by visitors to its website. You could also ask other stem cell transplant recipients for travel advice on our Patients and Families Forum.
  • Ask your GP or someone in your medical team to write a letter that explains the details of your medical situation. This often makes things clearer for insurers and could help you reach an agreement with them.

General tips

  • Always travel with your important documents and details of your medical situation, in case they are needed in an emergency. Any information about the medications you are taking would also be useful. If possible, it should be written in the local language as well. Make sure the people you are travelling with have access to everything too.
  • Ask your medical team to write a letter outlining your medications as you may need to carry some liquids or lotions in your hand luggage. It will need to be taken on board and kept with you at all times.
  • High factor sun cream, sunglasses and avoiding direct sunlight will all help reduce damage caused by the sun’s UV rays. After your stem cell transplant, you will be at a higher risk of getting skin cancer, so you need to protect yourself. 
  • If you are travelling to a place where the drinking water might be unclean, you should stick to (untampered) bottled water and other drinks.
  • Only eat food that you are confident has been washed, prepared and cooked hygienically.
  • Insect repellent will reduce the risk of picking up a virus or other infection from an insect bite. If this does happen and you are concerned, seek medical advice straight away.

Macmillan also has a lot of general travel advice for cancer patients on their website. You might also want to order or download a copy of their Travel and cancer guide to take with you.

nformation published: 13/11/2018
Next review due: 13/11/2021

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