What is cancer?
Depending on the type of cancer and its location in your body, you may have symptoms such as tiredness, weight loss, breathlessness or pain. Any of these may affect your ability to work.
The organs and tissues of the body are made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Cancer is a disease of these cells.
Cancer is not a single disease with a single cause and a single type of treatment. There are more than 200 different types of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.
Further information on what cancer is, the common types of cancer and how it develops is available in the about cancer section of the site.
Watch our introduction to cancer, cancer treatments and living with cancer.
Learning about your cancer
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Finding out as much as possible about your cancer will make it easier for you to plan your work. Before you decide how to move forward with your business, you’ll need to know the likely impact of the cancer and its treatment, and how these may affect your ability to work.
Your GP will be able to give you general advice and support, while your doctors and the healthcare staff at the hospital can give you more detailed information. It can help to have someone else with you at medical appointments. They can help you remember what you want to ask, and write down information to help you recall the details later.
We have more information about different types of cancer or you can also speak to one of our cancer support specialists.
When you’re talking to your cancer specialist, the questions below may help you find out how the cancer and its treatment could affect your ability to work.
Some people find it useful to make a list of their questions to take to their appointments. It can be helpful to ask these questions as soon as possible after you’ve been diagnosed.
What is the primary site of the cancer? Where did it start in the body?
Can you explain the tests I will need to have? How long will they take and will I need to take time off work?
What stage is the cancer at? (The stage describes the size of the cancer and whether it has spread beyond the area of the body where it started. Knowing the extent of the cancer helps the doctors to decide on the most appropriate treatment for you.)
How is the cancer likely to affect me?
What are my treatment options?
How might the treatment affect me?
What effect is the treatment likely to have on the cancer?
You may find that your doctors can’t always answer your questions in full, or that their answers sound vague.
The cancer specialists (surgeons and oncologists) at the hospital know roughly how many people may benefit from certain treatments. They can often give some idea of whether your cancer is likely to be cured or whether it’s likely to come back after treatment. However, everyone responds to treatment differently, so it’s impossible for them to be certain. Many people find this uncertainty hard to live with.
How much you’re able to do is likely to depend on the type of work you do, as well as the type of cancer you have and its treatment. Some cancers can be successfully treated, but some cancer types mean there will be long periods when you’re not having any treatment. It’s important to remember that many people with cancer return to work successfully.
We have more advice for some details questions to ask about your cancer treatment.
Storing your health information
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Many people find it helps to keep all their health information together. The NHS website has a secure place where you can store all your health information, called NHS Healthspace.
You may also find the Macmillan organiser helpful. This is a folder with sections you can fill in to keep track of your treatment and make notes. It also contains information about organisations that may be able to help you. Visit be.Macmillan or call our cancer support specialists to order one for free.