Travel and prostate cancer
This information is for men with prostate cancer who are thinking about going on holiday in the UK or abroad.
We've included tips to help you prepare for your trip and guidance on how to arrange travel insurance. But we don't support or recommend any one insurance company.
Your partner and family might also want to read this so they can understand the issues.
Updated January 2012
To be reviewed January 2014
- How can I prepare for my trip?
- Buying travel insurance
- What do I need to think about while I'm away?
- More information
- Reviewers and references
Some of the things you might want to think about are listed below. You can also read our Travel timeline for tips on preparing for your trip.
Speak to your doctor or nurse
It's a good idea to talk to your doctor or nurse about how travel plans might affect your medical treatment. They may be able to suggest when is good for you to travel, and help you think about where to go and how long to go away for.
If you're not sure how your diagnosis and treatment could affect your travel plans, why not speak to a Specialist Nurse on our confidential Helpline?
Think about how you are feeling
The way you're feeling could affect your travel plans. Your cancer or treatment may make you feel tired or sick. You may need to urinate more often and some treatments (for example, radiotherapy) can make you more sensitive to the sun1. These things should not stop you from travelling, but they might affect where you go and what sort of things you do while you're away. They may also affect how long you go away for and what you need to take with you.
Think about your medication
If you are taking medicines with you, you might find these tips helpful.
- Make sure you've got enough medicine for your whole stay - and a bit extra in case of delays or emergencies.
- Ask your doctor for a letter saying what your medicines are for. This might come in handy while you're at the airport of while you're travelling.
- Keep a list of the proper names (not just the brand names) and doses of your medicines in case you need to get more.
Travel top tip
Some drugs (for example, strong pain-relieving drugs) can't be taken abroad without a doctor's letter. Others might be legal in the UK but restricted in other countries. Make sure that your medicine is legal where you are going. Check this with the Embassy or High Commission of the country you are visiting.
You cannot take more than a certain amount of some medicines outside of the UK. These are called controlled drugs and may include strong pain-relieving drugs. The limit is usually around three months' supply. If you need to take more than this, you should apply for a home office export licence at least two weeks before you plan to travel2. You can download a form online at www.homeoffice.gov.uk or by calling 020 7035 4848.
Transporting your medicine
- Some airlines have special rules about transporting prescription medicines. For example, you may not be able to travel with some medicines in your hand luggage. Or, you might have to check them in beforehand. Before you travel, check whether you need to make any special arrangements for transporting your medicine.
- If you need a letter or licence to travel with your medicine, keep it in your hand luggage together with the medicine in its original packaging.
- If any of your medicines need to be kept cool, carry them in a cool bag. Make sure there is a fridge to store them in at your destination.
- If you pack medicines in your suitcase, check whether hot or cold temperatures can damage them. Tell the check-in staff at the airport about this so they can make sure your suitcase is stored at the right temperature.
Find out if you need any vaccinations
You may need to have vaccinations before you travel. Check what you might need on www.nathnac.org or by asking your practice nurse. And make sure you do this at least six weeks before you go away.
Before you book your trip, talk to your doctor about whether it's safe for you to have any new vaccinations1-3. If you need to take anti-malarial medicine, ask your doctor whether this will affect any other medicines you are taking.
Think about practical things
- Having cancer increases your risk of getting a blood clot. So do treatments like chemotherapy, surgery and hormone therapy4-6. Flying might not be safe for you, so check with your doctor before booking any long haul flights.
- Carry information about your condition, medicines and treatments in case you need to see a doctor while you're away.
- If you're travelling to a non-English speaking country, it might be a good idea to have your medical documents translated. Ask your doctor or nurse for more information about this.
- If you're travelling to a different time zone, ask your doctor to help you plan a medicine routine that fits in with the new local time.
- If you need a wheelchair, access to a toilet or a special meal for your journey, ask your travel company to sort this out before you travel.
- If you have urinary problems and use pads, make sure you pack enough for your trip and a few extra in case of delays.
- Pack extra pads and medicine in your hand luggage in case your suitcase gets lost.
- If you use a catheter:
- If you've had brachytherapy (a type of treatment where radioactive seeds are implanted into the prostate), you could set off airport radiation sensors7. Ask your doctor for an advice card saying you've had treatment with internal radiation. Take this with you, especially when travelling by air. Read our Tool Kit fact sheet Permanent seed brachytherapy, if you want to know more about this treatment.
- take a spare catheter with you
- take plenty of extra drainage bags or catheter valves
- speak to your specialist nurse about caring for your catheter while you are away
- ask your doctor for a letter that explains what your equipment is for. This is called a medical validation certificate and it might make things easier if customs officials decide to search your bag.
Apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
If you'e travelling to a European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The EEA is made up of the 26 European Union (EU) countries and Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
Travel top tip
The EHIC is free, so beware of scam websites that ask you to pay for it.
Things you should know about the EHIC3,8:
- It replaces the old E111 form.
- Each person travelling, including children, should have their own EHIC.
- It covers the cost of state healthcare only.
- It allows you to have medical treatment in most European countries for free, or at a lower cost. You may have to pay for some things at the time but you can claim the money back later.
- It covers the cost of medical treatment that becomes necessary during your trip, because of either illness or an accident. It will cover the cost of treatment for your cancer and other conditions you already have, as long as you did not go abroad specifically for that treatment.
- It does not always cover the full cost of treatment and it does not cover everything. For example, the EHIC won't pay for the cost of bringing you or your travelling companions back to the UK.
Each country's healthcare system is slightly different. Therefore, your EHIC might not cover everything that would be free on the NHS. But you should be able to get the same treatment as a resident of the country you're visiting.
To apply for an EHIC:
- visit www.ehic.org.uk or,
- call 0300 330 1350.
To find out more about getting medical treatment in the EEA, read the Department of Health booklet Health Advice for Travellers9. You can get a copy of this booklet by calling 0207 210 4850. You can also download a copy from the Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk
Arrange travel insurance if you are going abroad
If you're travelling abroad, it's a good idea to buy travel insurance before your trip. Travel insurance covers the cost of things that go wrong while you are away. For example, you might lose your suitcase or have to cancel your holiday. It can also cover the cost of any medical treatment that isn't covered by the EHIC so it's very important to get travel insurance even if you're staying in Europe.
Some insurance companies will only cover you if you have an EHIC.
You don't need travel insurance for medical costs if you travel in the UK. UK citizens travelling in the UK can have free medical treatment at the nearest hospital.
Sorting out travel insurance can be stressful or expensive if you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The following questions and answers may help you find the right insurance for your situation.
Q. Will having prostate cancer make it harder for me to get travel insurance?
A. Yes. This is because insurers think you are more likely to need medical treatment while you're on holiday or to cancel your trip at the last minute.
- If you're having treatment, have been treated recently, or have advanced or recurrent cancer, it may be very hard to find travel insurance. Most men are able to find insurance cover after shopping around a little. But some men decide to accept travel insurance that does not cover everything related to their cancer.
- If you're not having treatment or if your cancer is under control, your insurance may still cost more than if you hadn't been diagnosed.
Q. Where can I get travel insurance?
A. Insurance companies have different rules for working out who they insure. Some companies will not insure you if you've been diagnosed with cancer. Others may do if you provide a letter from your doctor saying that you are fit to travel. Your stage of cancer and treatment will affect where you can get travel insurance and how much it costs. You can look into the following options.
High street travel insurance companies
These companies are generally cheapest but only insure you for certain things or if you meet certain criteria. For example, your insurance may not cover medical treatment and emergencies related to your cancer. Or they might have time limits on how soon they will insure you to travel after treatment. Check the policy details to make sure you are completely covered for your trip.
These companies provide travel insurance for people with medical problems, including cancer. Their prices vary a lot and some specialist insurance policies can be very expensive. Take care to check whether the policy includes treatment related to your cancer before you buy it.
These are people who can give advice and arrange your travel insurance for you. Brokers shop around many companies to find the best deal for you. They can make getting travel insurance easier and sometimes offer you a better price than individual companies. But, they do charge a service fee.
Macmillan Cancer Support provides a list of travel insurance companies and brokers that might be useful on www.macmillan.org.uk. This list is updated every six months but insurance companies change their policies often, so you may want to look into other companies as well.
Travel top tip
Shop around to make sure you get the best deal for your situation.
Q. Can I arrange my travel insurance online?
A. The internet is a good place to start looking for insurance companies and brokers. You may get a quote online but you will usually need to speak to someone before your insurance is approved. This is because the company or broker will want to be very clear about your medical history and current health if you've been diagnosed with cancer.
Q. What questions will the insurance company ask me?
A. The insurance company will ask you a few things before they decide on the type of cover they can provide and how much it will cost. They will ask about your age, marital status and occupation. They might also ask for detailed information about your trip, medical history and your prostate cancer, such as:
- when you were diagnosed
- the stage and grade of your cancer
- what treatment you're having or have had
- any follow-up care you're receiving
- any side effects you're having.
They will also want to know about all of your other medical treatments or any other medical conditions. This includes conditions that are not related to your cancer such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Some insurance companies use a medical advisor to work out your insurance cover and how much it should cost. They might want a doctor's letter or ask your doctor to fill in a questionnaire about your health. Some insurance companies will charge you if they have to contact your doctor, so it might be better to sort this out yourself.
Travel top tip
Tell the insurance company about your prostate cancer and any other health problems you have. If you don't, they might not pay for medical treatment or the cost of getting you home if you become unwell on holiday. You should also tell the insurance company if there are any changes to your health between the time you accepted the policy and going on your trip. This includes annual insurance policies.
Q. Will my travel insurance be expensive?
A. The amount you pay (the premium) is likely to be higher than if you had not been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The amount you have to pay when you make a claim (the excess) could also be higher. In general, prices go down the longer your cancer has been under control. This means that if you are currently having treatment (including watchful waiting and active surveillance), or if you have been treated recently, you may pay more. Travel insurance could be very expensive if you have advanced or recurrent cancer.
The cost of travel insurance and the kind of cover you get can vary quite a lot. It might cost less if you choose a policy that doesn't cover treatment related to your cancer. You might want to do this if you feel your cancer is unlikely to cause any problems while you are away - but this can be more risky.
Travel top tip
Some companies will ask that all members of your party are covered under the same policy. This can be a good idea because it means all your companions are also covered in case you need to come home early, and they need to come with you.
Q. What questions should I ask the insurance company?
A. You should ask your insurance company to explain anything you aren't sure about, or if there's anything you haven't understood. You should also make sure you fully understand your policy and what it covers.
Think about asking questions such as:
- What does the policy include, and what does it not include?
- Does it cover treatment related to my cancer?
- Does it cover me if I have to come home early because of my cancer?
- How much is the excess?
- Do other people travelling with me need to be covered under the same policy?
- Does my doctor need to provide a letter or fill in a questionnaire? If so, will there be a charge from the insurance company if they contact my doctor?
Tips for finding travel insurance
- Look up the cost of travel insurance before booking your trip as some destinations are more expensive than others.
- Get quotes from high street companies as well as specialist companies.
- Check the small print. Make sure you know exactly what you're covered for, and what you're not covered for.
- If your cancer is unlikely to make you unwell while you're away, you could think about taking out insurance that covers everything except your cancer.
- Tell your insurance company about your prostate cancer and any other medical problems.
- Ask a member of your local cancer support group to recommend an insurance company.
Have you got questions about planning a holiday?
Ask other men about their experiences in our online community. Or, talk to a support volunteer through our peer support service. To access this, call a Specialist Nurse on our confidential helpline.
While you're on holiday, you should take extra care of your health. For example:
- Avoid strenuous activity that you are not used to.
- Keep cool and avoid extreme temperatures.
- Treat cuts, scratches and bites with antiseptic cream straight away.
- Wear insect repellent if you're somewhere where insects are a problem.
- Always carry someone's contact details in case you have an emergency.
Help avoid blood clots by making sure you do the following during your flight:
- Exercise your legs as much as possible.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes.
- Drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic drinks.
- Wear compression socks (if your doctor advises you to).
If you've recently had radiotherapy, you might be much more sensitive to the sun. To protect yourself:
- Avoid direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm.
- Use a strong sunscreen (around SPF30).
- Wear loose cotton clothing, as well as a hat and sunglasses.
If you've had chemotherapy or any treatment that might weaken your immune system10,11, take steps to avoid getting infections. For example:
- drink clean water only (boil it first if you are unsure)
- eat properly cooked food (avoid salads and raw vegetables)
- avoid street food and ice in drinks
- peel fruits before you eat them.
Association of British Insurers (ABI)
Telephone: 020 7600 3333
Provides information about insurance cover, and what to think about when choosing a policy that is right for you.
British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA)
Telephone: 0870 950 1790
Provides explanations for insurance terms that are hard to understand, and helps you find your nearest broker.
British Red Cross
The British Red Cross can provide a driver with a vehicle to help you get around, for example getting to and from the airport. This service is not available in all UK locations.
Cancer Help UK
Nurse helpline: 0808 800 4040
Cancer Research UK's patient information provides information about planning your holiday and sorting out travel insurance if you'ave been diagnosed with cancer.
Department of Health
Telephone: 020 7210 4850
Provides tips for travelling safely and how to take care of your health in EU and non EU countries.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
Telephone: 0191 218 1999
Provides information about the European Health Insurance Card and how to get one
Telephone: 0844 335 1801
Provides information about what services are offered to people with special needs at each UK airport.
Home Office Drugs Branch
Telephone: 020 7035 6330
Provides a complete list of controlled drugs and information about how to get an export or import license for your medicine.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Find the London Diplomatic list here. This is a list of Embassies and High Commisions in the UK and their contact details.
Macmillan Cancer Support
Free helpline: 0808 808 0000
Practical, financial and emotional support for people with cancer, their family and friends. Provides useful advice for planning your trip and choosing insurance, as well as a list of travel insurance companies that cover people with cancer.
National Travel Health Network and Centre
Telephone: 020 3447 5943
Provides travel health information about every country in the world, as well as a list of vaccinations you may need before going on holiday
Information about treatments, conditions and lifestyle, and support for carers and a directory of health services in England. Provides important information about travelling with cancer and how to get healthcare abroad.
This publication was written and edited by:
Prostate Cancer UK's Information Team
It was reviewed by:
- Philippa Robertson, Occupational Health Advisor, London
- Prostate Cancer UK Specialist Nurses
- Prostate Cancer UK Volunteers
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- Lee AYY, Levine MN. Venous Thromboembolism and Cancer: Risks and Outcomes. Circulation. 2003 Jun 17;107(23 suppl 1):I-17-I-21.
- Prandoni P, Falanga A, Piccioli A. Cancer and venous thromboembolism. Lancet Oncol. 2005 Jun;6(6):401-10.
- Brachytherapy (Internal radiation therapy) [Internet]. [cited 2013 Jan 23]. Available from: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=brachy
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- Travel and medical conditions - Cancer Information - Macmillan Cancer Support [Internet]. [cited 2013 Jan 23]. Available from: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Livingwithandaftercancer/Practicalissues/Travel/Medicalconditions.aspx
- Taking care when you are away : Cancer Research UK : CancerHelp UK [Internet]. [cited 2013 Jan 23]. Available from: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/coping-with-cancer/coping-practically/travel/taking-care-when-you-are-away