Can I Travel During Cancer Treatment?


Cancer patients often wonder whether it is ok for them to travel while they are receiving cancer treatment and whether there are any special precautions one should take during travel.

What one can or can't do depends a lot on the type of therapy. In some cases, you might have to travel to a regional cancer center to obtain treatment, in which case you will have no choice about traveling.

If you had surgery, most doctors will recommend that you refrain from driving or operating heavy machinery for two to four weeks after the surgery, depending on the type of surgery. You should also avoid strenuous activity during this period. The primary consideration is that you might herniate your stitches or reopen an incision, causing internal bleeding. In addition, people who have recently had surgery (especially abdominal surgery) may hesitate before stomping on the brakes, making them more likely to get into a serious accident.

If you had chemotherapy, your immune system may be suppressed (neutropenia), making you more prone to infection. You should avoid contact with crowds during this period. Airplanes are of particular concern because of the closed environment. If you must travel by mass transit, you should wear a mask and wash your hands before eating. Your doctor can provide you with masks.

Chemotherapy, even the types with alkaliting metals like cisplatin, will not trigger a metal detector in the airport. Chest x-rays, CT scans, and other forms of external beam radiation will not trigger an airport radiation detector.

Internal sources of radiation used for radiological exams and treatment, however, may trigger airport radiation detectors. The chemicals used in PET scans last for a day, bone scans and thyroid scans for 3-4 days, and iodine therapy (thyroid cancer) for up to 3 months. If you anticipate traveling by air after such an exam or treatment, ask your doctor for a letter that identifies the procedure, the type and amount of radioactive material used, the date of the procedure, and the likely duration of detectable radioactivity. Carry this letter with you when you travel.

Copyright © 2005-2018 by Mark Kantrowitz. All rights reserved.

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