Going on holiday can be a great way to relax if you’ve had breast cancer, but you may need to do some extra planning.
If you’re feeling well, travelling abroad when you have breast cancer won’t necessarily affect your plans. But you may need to check with your specialist team that you’re fit to travel, especially if you’re still having treatment.
We’ve put together some useful tips to help your trip away go as smoothly as possible:
- find the right travel insurance
- pack enough medication
- it’s safe to wear prostheses on a plane
- protect your skin in the sun after radiotherapy
- avoid swimming pools during and immediately after treatment
- check any vaccinations with your specialist team
- take extra care when travelling with lymphoedema
- relax and enjoy yourself
Travel insurance is essential if you’re going abroad, but some people have difficulty getting insurance if they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Those who are able to get travel insurance usually face higher premiums.
Be aware that your holiday insurance will not cover you for any claim relating to your breast cancer and its treatment, or any other pre-existing medical condition, if you don’t inform the insurance company about it when you buy the policy.
However, if you’re having trouble finding suitable insurance, there are companies that specialise in policies for people with existing medical conditions like cancer.
It may seem obvious, but if you’re taking medication such as tamoxifen, it’s important to pack enough to last your whole trip, plus a bit extra in case of any delays.
It’s best to pack medication in your hand luggage in case any checked-in baggage is delayed or lost. Keep the drugs in their original packaging.
It’s safe to wear your prosthesis on the flight as aircraft cabins are pressurised.
Some airports use body scanners and some of these will reveal a prosthesis. Where body scanners are in use, a random sample of travellers is selected to be scanned, so there’s a high chance you won’t be scanned.
If you prefer to pack your prosthesis in your main luggage, some small air bubbles may appear because the luggage hold is not pressurised. These will disappear shortly after you’re back on the ground and won’t harm your prosthesis.
READ MORE: Flying with a prosthesis.
Taking care in the sun is important for everyone. But radiotherapy can make your skin more sensitive to the sun for some years after treatment, so you may burn more easily than usual.
This shouldn’t stop you enjoying time outdoors when on holiday but it’s best to take some precautions.
Protect your skin by using a sunscreen or sunblock that has a high sun protection factor (SPF 50–60). Remember it’s also possible to get sunburnt through clothing, so apply sunscreen underneath your clothes too. Wear loose clothing made of cotton or natural fibres and make sure you cover any operation scars and radiotherapy sites.
Avoid the hottest part of the day (11am–3pm) if you can. If you can’t, try and stay in the shade or have an umbrella or parasol to use in unshaded areas. If you’ve lost hair from chemotherapy wear a hat or headscarf while outside to protect your scalp from burning.
READ MORE: Suncare after breast cancer.
You may want to avoid swimming during radiotherapy and shortly afterwards (until any skin reactions have healed). Wet swim suits can rub the skin and cause discomfort and swimming pool chemicals may also make the skin dry and irritated.
If you’re having chemotherapy you may also be advised to avoid swimming pools. This is because chemotherapy affects your immune system’s ability to fight infection, which might make you more susceptible to any germs in the water.
If you do want to go swimming while on holiday, it’s best to discuss it with your hospital team first.
If you’re going somewhere that requires vaccinations, discuss your plans with your specialist team first.
Live vaccinations – including yellow fever and tuberculosis – are not recommended during chemotherapy or for six months after. This is because they contain tiny amounts of live virus or bacteria and could cause serious infections.
Inactivated vaccines – such as diphtheria and tetanus – are safe after treatment but may be less effective if you have a weakened immune system. This may be the case in the first six months after chemotherapy.
If you have lymphoedema, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a holiday, but you may need to take extra care. For example, if you’ve been fitted with a compression garment you should wear it during your journey. Keep your hand baggage light, and try to carry it on your back rather than your shoulder.
Don’t let your fears about travelling with breast cancer put you off having a holiday. Going on holiday can be a great way to relax and recharge your batteries if you’ve had breast cancer. With a bit of extra care and planning you can have a great time.
A version of this blog was posted in July 2013. This post was updated to include new information.