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Ovacome is a national charity providing support and information to those affected by ovarian cancer. We run a free telephone and email support line and work to raise awareness and give a voice to all those affected by ovarian cancer.

This information is part of our Living with ovarian cancer series. It looks at the issues raised when people diagnosed with ovarian cancer want to travel abroad. It describes the possible risks of air travel, how to manage medications when travelling, getting insurance and sources of help when abroad.

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If you are thinking of travelling abroad and have an ovarian cancer diagnosis your first step is to check with your clinical team that it is safe for you to go.

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Making arrangements to travel

If you have recently had surgery you may not be fit to fly.  You may have the same problem if you have low red blood cells (anaemia).

If your immune system is affected by your illness or treatment and you need to have vaccinations before you travel, you may have to wait a few months before you can have them.

It can be helpful to get a letter from your doctor that details your illness and lists any medication or equipment you need to travel with.  You may need to show this when you go through security and customs.

Your clinical team will also advise you on the risk of developing a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) and how you can reduce this.  If you are flying you may be advised to wear compression stockings, to get up and move around during the flight or to do exercises in your seat.

The same advice can apply to travelling by car, train or by sea.

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Travelling with medication

It is important to plan ahead if you need to take medication with you when you travel overseas.  You need to make sure that it is legal for you to take your medication out of the country, and that you will have enough to last the length of your trip – including any possible delays.

You may need to ask your GP to prescribe extra supplies, although there are limits on how much medication can be prescribed at once.  You can register temporarily with a doctor at your destination and use a local pharmacy.  The British embassy in the country you are visiting can inform you about this. 

It is useful to ask your GP for a letter listing the medicines you will be taking, the reason you need them and how many times a day you use them.  The letter should use the generic name of the medicine rather than its brand name (such as paracetamol rather than Panadol).  This will help customs officials to check your medicines.  It will also be useful if you need medical care while you are away.

You also need to think about how to store you medication on your flight and in your accommodation.  Some medicines need to be kept at the right temperature, so if you plan to keep your medication in your hold luggage, ask your doctor or pharmacist if this will be too cold.  If it is you can store the medicine in an insulated container.

If you are travelling to a warm country and your medicine needs to be kept cool you may need access to a fridge.

If you need to use a liquid medicine during the flight the usual rule that only 100ml or less can be carried in the aircraft cabin will not apply.  However, you should tell the airline in advance that you will need this.  Bring your prescription or a letter from your doctor which says what the medicine is and that you need it with you.

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Controlled drugs

Your GP should be able to tell you if there is a problem taking your medication abroad.  This will be if your medicine contains a controlled drug.  These are usually strong painkillers or sedatives that can be addictive, cause harm or be supplied illegally. 

If your prescribed medication contains a controlled drug you will need a letter from the person who prescribed it giving your name, which countries you are visiting, the dates of your visit, the quantity of the drug you have with you, its dose and strength.

If you are going on a long trip and carrying medicine containing controlled drugs to last three months or longer, you need to apply for a special licence.  There are details on how to do this in the sources of further information section.

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What help will you need?

You may help with walking distances at the airport or railway station so book assistance.  You may need to ask for an aisle seat near the toilet, or provision for a special diet.  Do this well in advance to give travel companies plenty of time to make arrangements for you.

If you need to bring equipment with you, most airlines allow you to bring two items such as wheelchairs and walking frames free of charge.  These don’t count towards your hand luggage allowance.

If you have a stoma you will need to get a travel certificate from your doctor.  You may have to show this to airport security and other officials.  You can take stoma or incontinence supplies in your hand luggage so you can use them on your journey.  It is helpful to tell security staff that you have a stoma so they are aware of it before you go through security checks.

You are unlikely to be asked to remove a wig, if you wear one.  If security staff want to scan it ask them to use a hand scanner.  If you are required to remove your wig, ask to do this in private.

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Care in the sun

Your cancer treatment may mean that your skin is more sensitive to the sun, so it is very important to protect yourself.  Chemotherapy, targeted therapies, radiotherapy and surgery can increase the risk of sunburn and dry skin.  Ask your clinical team if your treatment makes you more likely to experience sun damage.

You can protect yourself by avoiding direct sunshine from 11am to 3pm when it is strongest.

If you stand in the sun and your shadow is shorter than you are then it is the brightest and hottest part of the day and time to cover up and protect your skin.  You can do this by seeking shade, wearing a long sleeved top, a wide brimmed hat and using a good quality sun screen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and a four or five star rating or the letters UVA inside a circle.

Apply your sunscreen before you go out and reapply it every two hours.  It won’t completely protect you and it should not be used as a way of spending more time in the sun, but it will reduce the risk of sun damage to your skin.

Sunglasses will help too.  Choose some that cut down ultra violet light, these will be marked UV 400 or 100% UV protection.  They should also have a CE mark showing they conform to health and safety standards or a British Standard Institute BSI mark. 

Remember that skin damage can happen even on cloudy days and be especially careful if you are in or on water, or snow, as this will reflect light.

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Finding travel insurance

It is very important to have travel insurance when you go abroad. It can mean that you get the medical care you need if you experience health problems related to your ovarian cancer diagnosis.

It can be hard to find travel insurance that can give the cover you need at a price you can afford.  It may need to meet the cost of being flown back home in an emergency, or being unexpectedly ill and needing hospital care.  These needs are on top of the usual cover of cancellation costs and lost luggage.

Some insurance companies will cover you if you have a letter from your doctor saying you are fit to travel.  Others will only insure you for medical treatment that is not related to your cancer – leaving you to cover other costs yourself.

It is important to tell an insurance company about your cancer diagnosis to ensure you buy a policy that covers any emergency treatment you may need.  The company may ask about your cancer type, the stage and grade when it was diagnosed (see Ovacome fact sheet 3 The stages of ovarian cancer). They may ask about your treatment, follow up care and expected outcome.

When you are looking at insurers check their policies to make sure they would cover all your specific needs.  Comparison websites can be useful, but they tend to focus on the price of the policy and not all companies are listed on them.

Some insurers specialise in policies that cover cancer.  Make sure they are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and show their FCA number.

Also check to see if your bank, credit card provider or trade union can offer you suitable travel insurance.  They may be able to offer an arrangement that tops up an existing policy to cover your insurance needs relating to your cancer.

You can also use an insurance broker who understands the needs of people travelling with cancer to find a suitable policy for you, although they will charge a fee to do this.

It is helpful to contact insurance companies informally before making a formal application.  You can then find out if their policy is too expensive or they can’t cover you.  This means you can avoid having to tell another company you have been turned down after going through a formal application process.

When you are applying for insurance make sure you answer the questions as fully as you can and give any further information you think they could need. This will help to avoid a claim being refused because the company says you did not give full information about your situation.

Insurance companies may want to see a doctor’s letter confirming you are medically fit to travel.  They may also want to contact your healthcare providers to discuss your medical history.  They may ask you very personal questions so be prepared for this.

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Once you have applied for your travel insurance the insurance company can:

  • Offer you cover that their usual cost -more likely if you finished your treatment a long time ago and they think you are unlikely to make a claim.

  • Offer you cover but with a higher premium and/or a high excess – this is the amount you pay towards the cost of any claim.

  • Offer you cover but exclude your cancer – so you will not be covered for any claim relating to your cancer.

  • Refuse to insure you.

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Here are some insurance companies that Ovacome members have found useful:

World First 

Eurotunnel

Boots

The Women’s Institute (members only)

MIA

InsuranceWith

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Sources of further information

Find a British embassy

Controlled drugs list

Travelling with controlled drugs

Am I fit to fly?

Accessible travel tips

Macmillan travel information

Cancer Research UK travel information

Colostomy UK travel advice

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If you would like more information on the sources and references for this information, please call us on 0800 008 7054. If you would like to discuss anything about ovarian cancer, please phone our support line on 0800 008 7054 Monday to Friday between 10am and 5pm, with extended opening hours until 8pm on Tuesdays.

You can also visit our website at www.ovacome.org.uk.

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Written by Julia Cotterill, Ovacome Support Services Officer.

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Disclaimer: Ovacome resources provide information and support.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information at the time of printing.  It is not a substitute for professional care.  Ovacome cannot accept liability for any inaccuracy in sources to which we link.