Deciding who to tell

Talking to the people you work with about your diagnosis can be difficult. You may worry about their reactions or if it will be awkward.

You may decide to tell people you feel closest to first. They may be able to help you plan how to tell others.

It is a good idea to contact your manager or human resources (HR or personnel) department early on. There are laws that protect your rights at work when you have been diagnosed with cancer. We have more information about work and cancer.

If you are self-employed, you might not need to tell any business contacts about the cancer. However, they may need to know if your business agreements will be affected.

The benefits of talking to colleagues

Telling people at work can have benefits:

  • It gives them the chance to support you and know what to expect.
  • You can let them know when you need help.
  • They may suggest helpful ways for you to cope with your work.
  • It may make you feel closer to the people you work with.
  • There may be people who have experience of cancer who could support you.

When you have more details, you could give people a short explanation of your treatment and its side effects. You may want to tell them if tiredness is a problem, if your concentration is affected or if you are at risk of infection.

If you do not want to tell people at work

Some people prefer not to tell people at work that they have cancer. You may not want to tell them so you can keep one area of your life as normal as possible. This can be a good way of coping for some people.

However, the effects of the cancer or cancer treatment, and the need to take time off, can make it difficult not to tell your colleagues. People you work with may also be aware from your behaviour that something is wrong, and may feel uncomfortable if they do not know what it is.

It may help to take some time to think about the benefits and disadvantages of telling people. You may find it helpful to talk to Macmillan's cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Risk to people you work with

There are many myths and misunderstandings about cancer. If you work with colleagues, they may worry that they could be harmed if you are having treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. However, there is no risk to your colleagues.

  • Chemotherapy is broken down in the body and will not harm anyone you come into contact with.
  • Radiotherapy treatment from an external machine does not make you radioactive. If you have internal radiotherapy, the radiation will only affect a small area of tissue in your body around the cancer. It will not affect anyone you come into contact with.

Sometimes, colleagues may worry that they can catch cancer. But cancer cannot be passed on like an infection, and the people you work with have no risk of catching cancer.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
0808 808 00 00
7 days a week, 9am - 5pm
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What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.