Working during treatment

It can be difficult to decide whether to carry on working during cancer treatment. You may need to keep working for financial reasons, especially if you are self-employed. Some people also decide to carry on working to focus their attention on something else. However, your ability to work will depend on your health, the type of treatment you have and your occupation.

You may need to discuss your work arrangements with your employer. These may need to change over time depending on your health situation.

There’s a risk your cancer treatment will cause side effects. This may have an impact on your ability to do your job. Some side effects may prevent you from going to work for a while whereas others may be very mild.

Making decisions about work

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.

The main treatments for cancer are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Other treatments such as hormonal therapy and targeted therapies may also be used for certain cancers. Often a combination of more than one type of treatment is used.

Some side effects of treatment may affect your ability to work. Others may be mild. You can find out more about how side effects may affect you by visiting the page for your type of treatment. We also have more information about coping with symptoms and side effects.

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.

If you’re self-employed

Worries about money and work are very common for people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. These questions can be difficult for anyone, but may seem especially tough if you’re self-employed.

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?

It may help to talk through these questions with your employer. Then you can plan the best course of action for you.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you may need time to think through your choices and discuss them with your family or friends.

If you find it difficult to decide which treatment to have, it may help to talk to people who have already had those treatments. You could ask your doctor whether they could arrange this.

Many cancer organisations and support groups can also help you find someone who’s had a particular treatment.

Back to Information for employees


People affected by cancer may face challenges related to work. Macmillan can offer information and support

Coping with side effects

Cancer treatment can cause different side effects. They can have an impact on your capacity to work.

Making treatment decisions

When you’re self-employed, you may have particular questions about treatment decisions and how they could impact on your work.

Talking to your employer

You’re not required to tell your employer about your cancer, but it can help them to support you during treatment.

Your rights at work

If you have or have had cancer, you are protected by law from unfair treatment at work.