Traveling for cancer treatment during COVID-19: 5 patient questions, answered

Cancer patients often need regular doctor visits, both to receive treatment and to have their progress and side effects monitored and managed. This is especially true for patients on clinical trials, who require frequent scans and bloodwork.

But if you have an upcoming appointment at MD Anderson, you may be wondering if you should still travel here for your visit, with new 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) developments emerging daily, including the CDC issuing guidance on domestic travel. What should you do if you need to fly to Houston for cancer treatment? And if you need to fly, how can you minimize your risk of catching COVID-19?

We spoke with immunology specialist Patrick Hwu, M.D., to help our cancer patients navigate COVID-19 travel decisions.

As a cancer patient, is it safe for me to travel by airplane right now?

No matter where you are in your cancer journey — just diagnosed, barely started treatment, in the middle of treatment, or almost done with treatment — every patient’s situation is unique. That means there is no universal answer.

Some patients have compromised immune systems or other health issues to consider, such as lung disease. These conditions can put them at greater risk — both for contracting COVID-19 and for developing severe symptoms if they do. That’s why this question can only be decided on a case-by-case basis.

I’ve told some of my own patients to wait, as doing so won’t compromise their treatment, and it might be safer for them to travel in a few months. It’s important that you contact your own care team by phone or through MyChart for guidance that is tailored specifically to you and your treatment. Your care team can explain the risks and benefits of waiting, so you can make an informed decision together.

What can I do to minimize my chances of catching COVID-19 while flying?

First, make sure anyone traveling with you is feeling well and healthy, showing no COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.

After that, the same basic hygiene strategies apply. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, and try not to touch your face with them. Avoid crowded areas as much as you can, and use your elbow to push elevator buttons. Don’t share food, drinks or utensils with anyone.

You also might want to bring antibacterial wipes with you, and use them on seats, armrests and tray tables.

Is it OK to use rental cars?

Yes. You should just clean the steering wheel (if you’re driving), door handles, gear shift, and any other buttons or levers that might have been touched by someone else with antibacterial wipes.

Can I still go on vacation?

A lot of people have personal plans to travel over spring break. Although these trips are already booked and paid for, we are encouraging patients not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary for medical treatment. I have cancelled several work and leisure trips of my own, and I am committed to traveling as little as possible right now.

Editor's note: This article was last updated on March 30, 2020.

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