Travelling, for most, is about relaxing, taking time out and experiencing a new and exciting adventure. But when you have a blood cancer, planning a holiday may require you to make a few more considerations.
It’s important that before you make any holiday plans, you check whether you’re fit to travel with your doctor or medical team. They will be able to advise you if they feel there is anything that could prevent you from travelling.
Despite how well you plan your holiday, travel insurance is there to give you financial protection when things don’t go according to plan. However, getting travel insurance can be difficult if you have, or have had, cancer.
A holiday is usually a time of relaxation, but after a blood cancer diagnosis, you may find it harder to find a travel insurance company that will cover you. It can be difficult, but planning your trip more carefully can help you feel more relaxed, leaving time for you to enjoy your holiday.
The difficulties of getting insurance
Finding good insurance at a sensible price can be a challenge for cancer patients. Health problems are known as pre-existing conditions. When applying for travel insurance, insurers assess you situation to estimate how likely you are to become ill whilst on holiday or cancel your holiday due to your condition. The cost of potential treatment abroad is also taken into account.
When applying for travel insurance, be open and honest about your health. Some companies may not insure you due to your health. Others may offer you cover but with certain terms and conditions such as:
- a higher premium
- a higher excess
- a cancer-related exclusion (you wont be able to make claims relating to your cancer)
Always check with your provider what you are and aren’t covered for.
If you’re undergoing treatment, many insurers wont cover you due to the associated risks. Similarly, many companies may not offer you cover until a certain amount of time has passed following treatment. Again, this is all dependent on the assessment of your situation.
Finding travel insurance
It is important that you do your research before committing to an insurance policy. You can do this is an few ways:
- Search engines and comparison sites are a good starting point. But they may not list all of the companies available. Try to compare as many quotes as possible.
- Talk to your employer – often in large companies, some employers provide travel cover as part of a benefits package so it is worth talking about this before you research external insurance companies.
- If you have an account with a certain bank, you may be able to take out a travel insurance policy through them.
- Find insurance through a broker – they search for suitable insurance for you. You can find a qualified and regulated broker through the British Insurance Brokers’ Association
- Some credit card companies have policies where if you pay for the holiday using that credit card it includes insurance. Check with your credit card company to see if having blood cancer affects this cover.
- Some private healthcare insurers may offer you travel insurance.
The European Health Insurance Card
A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) shouldn’t be used as an alternative to travel insurance cover as it will not cover you for a non-medical eventuality. But can enable you to access state-provided healthcare in European countries.
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles UK residents to free or reduced-cost emergency treatment when visiting certain European countries.
If you have an EHIC, it means as a UK resident, you are entitled to the same healthcare as residents in the European country you’re visiting should you have an accident or fall ill. This is free to apply for and it is important to check which countries you can use the EHIC in before travelling relying on this.
You can apply for an EHIC:
- online (Northern Ireland residents can find out more here https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/travelling-abroad)
- by post, using an application form you download from the website
- by phoning the automated EHIC application service on 0300 330 1350.
Taking medicines abroad
If you are undergoing treatment or taking a particular drug for side effect relief, it’s important you plan ahead and consider what you need for your holiday in advance to allow you to have a worry-free trip.
If you need to take your medication abroad with you, you must check the rules and restrictions within your destination country regarding bringing your medication into the country.
There are certain things you may need to think about or consider before you plan your holiday:
Length of trip
If you’re travelling for more than three months and need to take medication every day you may need to find out if you need a personal medicines licence from the Home Office for carrying this as you will be taking a large amount of medication with you.
Make sure you have your medicines, covering letters and licences for any controlled drugs in your hand luggage as this makes it easier for customs officers to check them.
Consider the time differences of the country you are travelling to as you will needed to gradually change and adjust the times you take your regular medicines to fit in with the local time of your holiday location.
Check in advance how much medication you will need to ensure you have enough medication for your whole trip. You may need to order them in advance.
Check that the medication you need is available in the country you’re travelling to and note down the generic drug name of your medication.
Vaccines help boost the body’s immune system and help to protect the body against specific infections and diseases by producing antibodies (substances produced by the body to help fight disease) without actually infecting us with the disease.
They trigger the immune system to produce its own antibodies, as it would if the body had been infected with a disease. This is called “active immunity”.
Types of vaccines
The two main types of vaccine are:
- Live vaccines – containing tiny amounts of live virus or bacteria so little that they can’t actually cause disease.
- Inactive vaccines – contain a part of a virus or bacterium which has been killed so can no longer infect.
You should always check with your medical team before having a certain vaccine. If you have a weak immune system, you should not have live vaccines. This may be the case if you’ve recently had chemotherapy or radiotherapy or are taking immunosuppressive treatment.
If the immune system is weakened the body is not be able to efficiently form an immune response even to the very small amounts of live virus contained within the vaccine, increasing the risk of developing the actual infection.
Inactive vaccines aren’t dangerous and are safe after cancer treatment. But they may be less effective in people who have low immunity.
If you’ve had high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, you may have lost your immunity to certain diseases. You may need to be re-vaccinated after your treatment has ended.
No matter what vaccine you need, it is important to check with your doctor or medical team before having any type of vaccination.
Should always research what type of vaccines are needed to travel to a specific country before you book, as it may be a vaccine that is too risky to have. This may mean it is better to choose a different holiday location
Inactive vaccines safe for blood cancer patients:
- Hepatitis A and B
- Haemophilus influenza (hib)
- Typhoid injection
- Diptheria, tetanus and polio
- Meningococcal meningitis
- Whooping cough
Live vaccines unsafe for blood cancer patients:
- Measles, Mumps and Rubella
- Oral typhoid
- Yellow fever
There are a number of vaccines that, as a blood cancer patient, you are recommended to have to protect you from infection and other illnesses at a time when your immune system may be low.
The seasonal flu vaccine is recommended to be administered every year. If you are being treated for leukaemia and aren’t already doing this, you can have the vaccine administered by your GP, however you should get in touch with your medical team to discuss at what stage of your treatment cycle would be best for you to have this vaccination.
If you have been diagnosed with a leukaemia, it is recommended that you get the pneumococcal vaccine once every five years. This vaccine can reduce the likelihood of more serious infections for example pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia which could cause serious harm if caught with a lowered immune system.
There are two pneumococcal vaccinations, PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 13) and PPV23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine 23). It is recommended that you have both of these vaccines for higher protection, but a single standard vaccine can provide you with sufficient protection.
Vaccines following chemotherapy and stem cell transplant
Following high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, you may no longer be immune to diseases you may have been vaccinated against previously and therefore you may need to receive these vaccines again.
It’s important that you seek advice of your medical team as to which vaccines you will need to receive again as each hospital has their own guidelines and recommendations.
Vaccination for travel
It is not recommended to travel abroad whilst on a course of treatment, however if you have finished treatment or are in remission you may be thinking about travelling abroad. If you are thinking of travelling to certain countries, there is a possibility that you may need to be vaccinated against certain diseases in the country you are planning on travelling to.
Some vaccines for diseases will be in the form of live vaccines and should be avoided. If there is any doubt, you should consult your haematologist or consultant before deciding on your holiday location. You should also ensure you speak to your medical team at least six weeks before you travel to discuss the implications of having a particular vaccine and to plan the best time to have it during your treatment plan.