Breast Cancer Survivors: Tips for Travel

Last Editorial Review: 3/25/2005

Travel safe and smart after your bout with breast cancer is over

By Gina Shaw
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

Getting treated for breast cancer may have kept you from a long-planned anniversary trip or family holiday. You may have been too tired to travel, or your oncologist may have warned you that your immune system was too weakened to be exposed to the germs and recirculated air of a long plane flight. During radiation for breast cancer, the five-days-a-week treatment schedule probably prevented you from venturing too far from home.

Now that your breast cancer treatment is over, you may be eager to celebrate with a trip to visit family or a journey to a beautiful, relaxing resort or exotic city. What should you know to ensure a safe trip?

In general, being a breast cancer survivor shouldn't limit your travel plans. You'll want to check with your doctor if you have ongoing medical issues, such as if your immune system remains weakened after chemotherapy, for example. But breast cancer survivors climb mountains, hike the Grand Canyon, and visit all corners of the globe, and there's no reason you shouldn't be one of them.

Travel Smart to Minimize Problems on the Road

Here are a few tips from the National Lymphedema Network before setting out:

  • Take your medications. Make sure you have enough of all prescriptions (such as tamoxifen or other hormonal treatments) to see you through the end of the trip. Carry the drugs on the plane with you in case you get separated from your luggage. If you usually switch medications to a pill-a-day case or other pillbox, keep them in their clearly labeled prescription bottles while you're going through airports or driving across borders.
  • Wear your compression sleeve. If you have arm lymphedema, be sure to wear your individually fitted compression sleeve when you fly, and wear loose-fitting clothing, cautions Mary McCabe, RN, who directs the Cancer Survivorship program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. If you don't have lymphedema but are at risk, you might still want to wear a sleeve for particularly long flights, especially if you had a large number of lymph nodes removed.
  • Be careful with luggage. Pack with an eye toward not straining your surgical site, especially if you've had lymph nodes removed. Use a rolling suitcase, tote your carry-on bag over the opposite shoulder, and ask for help in putting luggage in the overhead compartment.
  • Use common sense. Other travel precautions for women at risk of lymphedema: try not to carry a heavy pack if you're hiking or backpacking, and be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen (at least SPF 30), as sunburns can increase your lymphedema risk. If you're camping or mountain climbing at high altitudes, ask your doctor whether you should wear a compression sleeve.

Gina Shaw is a medical writer who was treated for breast cancer in 2004, and now calls herself a "joyful breast cancer survivor."

Published March 2005.

SOURCES: National Lymphedema Network. Mary McCabe, RN, director, Cancer Survivorship program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. American Cancer Society.

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