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Work and Cancer

Important information about work and your cancer treatment

Even though chemotherapy treatment can cause unpleasant side effects, some people still manage to lead an almost normal life during treatment. But this depends on the type of chemotherapy you’re having.

Some people choose to carry on working, either full-time or part-time, during their treatment. Some people need to carry on working as much as possible for financial reasons|.

You may also find that working during your treatment gives you satisfaction and helps you focus on something other than the cancer. It depends on the type of work you do, and whether you have anyone else who can help out for a while. It also depends on your health, the type of cancer you have and what kind of treatment you choose.

It’s impossible to predict how you’ll react to treatment until you start. This uncertainty makes it hard to look ahead and decide how much work to take on. It will help to let your employer know this, so that they’re aware that you may need to change your work plans at short notice.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Will I need to cut back on my workload temporarily?
  • Will I need to work in a different way, to allow time for rest as well as my treatment?
  • Who will be able to help me in practical ways?
  • Will I need extra financial help to get me and my family through this period and, if so, where can I get it?
  • Will it be safe for me and for others if I carry on working during treatment?


As part of introducing self-management and to plan for after your treatment, it has been shown that discussing these issues ahead of time can be extremely beneficial.

Are you employed   /       Self-employed? 

Are you intending to carry on working?

Do you plan on returning to your job if you are not working through treatment?

Have you made contact with your Employer?

Can you continue to keep your employer informed so that they can plan for your return also?

Do you have a good relationship with your employer?

Is there any imminent restructuring likely to happen in your work place?

How flexible is your job? / could adjustments be made to accommodate any issues on your return?

Do you have any financial concerns?


Many people who have had cancer want to go back to work when they feel ready and able

If you have cancer and are in paid employment, your employer should try to help and support you. Where reasonable, they should make changes to let you do your job during and after your cancer treatment.


Discrimination can include:

  • an employer not making reasonable changes to allow you to do the job (for example, to cope with fatigue)
  • an employer giving you a warning for having a lot of time off sick, but not taking your cancer diagnosis into account
  • an employer suggesting that it would be better if you retired or stopped working
  • being dismissed for a reason related to your cancer
  • being demoted to a lower-paid or less demanding job for a reason related to your cancer
  • being passed over for promotion in favour of someone with less experience or ability to do the job because of a reason related to your cancer
  • being chosen for redundancy for a reason related to your cancer (for example if you’ve used more sick leave than your colleagues)
  • not being given a job because of your cancer
  • not being allowed time off for medical appointments
  • having an unfavourable appraisal or performance review (for example, if you’ve had a lot of sick leave or tiredness and haven’t met targets or objectives as a result of this)
  • an employer making it difficult for you to get any sick pay you’re entitled to
  • being harassed – this is when an employer or colleague bullies, intimidates, insults you or makes you feel uncomfortable so you feel you can’t stay in your job (for example, being teased about hair loss, or being laughed at or whispered about by colleagues)
  • victimisation.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), it’s unlawful for an employer to treat you less favourably (discriminate against you) because of your disability. If you have cancer, you are legally classed as disabled.
  • Even if you’ve had cancer in the past, it has been successfully treated and you are now in remission, you will still be covered by this legislation. This means your employer must not treat you less favourably for any reason related to your past cancer.


Your employer does not have to make a reasonable adjustment unless it knows (or should reasonably know) that you have cancer.

Some examples of a reasonable adjustment include:

  • giving you time off to go to medical appointments
  • changing your job description to remove tasks that cause problems
  • allowing you to work more flexible hours
  • giving you extra breaks if you feel very tired
  • letting you do just light duties for a temporary period
  • changing your performance targets to take into account the effect of any sick leave or treatment side effects, such as fatigue
  • moving you to a role with more suitable duties (with your agreement)
  • changing where you work, for example, moving you to a ground floor office if breathlessness makes it difficult to climb stairs
  • making sure you can access your work building if you use mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair or crutches
  • giving you computer equipment that might help, such as voice-activated software if you can’t type
  • letting you work from home
  • providing a disabled toilet
  • allowing you to return to work gradually after a long period of time off work.


Further information can be sought from:

Macmillan Cancer Support





Has information about benefits and grants. You can often apply for support directly from the website.




Provides advice about benefits and financial issues.


The Personal Finance Society


Allows you to search for qualified financial advisers in your area