How a cancer diagnosis might affect your work

Knowing how cancer will affect your work can be difficult. Read more about the decisions you may need to make in the future.

Changes at work

When you have been diagnosed with cancer, you might not be thinking about work. Or it might be one of your first worries. Knowing your rights and talking to your employer can help you get the right support in the future.

You may not know how a cancer diagnosis will affect work in the short term or in the future. It will depend on:

  • the type of cancer, its stage and size and whether it has spread
  • treatment and its side effects
  • your finances
  • the practical support you have.

You may decide to stop working when you are diagnosed with cancer. You may want to focus on treatment and time with family and friends.

Employment rights

If you have cancer, or have ever had cancer, the law considers this a disability. This means you cannot be treated less favourably than other people (who do not have cancer) because you have cancer. That would be discrimination.

If you have cancer, the law says your employer must make reasonable adjustments to help you. These are changes to your workplace or working arrangements that allow you to remain at or return to work.

Telling your employer about the cancer

If you can, it is a good idea to contact your manager or HR manager as soon as possible.

You may worry that they will not be supportive, or that your employer can dismiss you or make you redundant because of a cancer diagnosis. This should not happen. There are laws to protect you. You can also ask your employer to keep your conversation confidential.

You may want to tell your employer about the Macmillan at Work programme. It could give them a better understanding of how they can help you.

Your feelings about work

A cancer diagnosis may change the way you feel about work. You may feel:

  • concerned about how your work will be affected
  • angry that you might not be able to work as usual
  • worried about how your colleagues or clients might react
  • guilty, if others may need to take on some of your work
  • worried about money
  • frustrated that you might have to take time off.

All of this normal. But it can be difficult to cope with. Telling your employer about your diagnosis as soon as possible and knowing your rights can help you get the support you need.

Talking to colleagues

Talking to the people you work with about your diagnosis can be difficult. But it can help people support you and understand changes. We have more information about talking to colleagues about cancer.

Planning ahead for time off

You may need time off work to have tests, appointments or treatments. You may also need time to cope with your feelings.

Whether you need to take time off work will depend on your situation. Talking to your healthcare team can help you understand how a diagnosis might affect your work. If you are off sick for more than a few days, you will need a fit note.

If you are worried about how taking time off will impact your financial situation, we have more information about sick pay and benefits.

If you are self-employed

If you are self-employed, there may be other things you need to think about when you are diagnosed with cancer. Planning ahead can help make any changes to your work life easier in the future.

We have more information about making decisions about your business.

Your rights if you are self-employed

You may have legal protection against discrimination if you are employed under a contract with an employer. If you have your own business or are not under contract, you may not be legally protected from discrimination.

Taking time off

Talking to your healthcare team is the best way to know whether you will need to take time off because of cancer. You may need some time off for tests, appointments or treatment.

You may want to start to think about whether you need to tell clients or if you should organise some help with your business.

We have more information about keeping your business going.

Closing your business

Some people make the decision to stop working when they are diagnosed with cancer. This allows them to focus on their health and other parts of their life, such as friends and family.

If you decide to close your business, speak to a financial adviser.

We have more information about closing your business.