Can I work while having cancer treatment?

When you are self-employed it may be difficult to decide whether to work during your treatment. One of the most important things to think about is how your treatment is likely to affect you.

Some people keep working during treatment, either full-time or part-time. Some people need to keep working as much as possible for financial reasons.

You may find that working during your treatment gives you a sense of normality. It may help you focus on something other than your cancer. It may depend on the type of work you do, and whether anyone else can help out for a while.

Questions to ask yourself

When you are thinking about working while having treatment, ask yourself some questions:

  • Will I need to do less with my business for a while?
  • Will I need to run my business in a different way, to have treatment and rest?
  • Will someone be able to help me in practical ways?
  • Can I pay someone else to run my business for a while, and still make a profit?
  • Will I need extra financial help during this time? If so, where can I get it?
  • Will it be safe for me and for others if I keep working during treatment?
  • Have I spoken to my insurers to check if I am still covered?

It may help to talk these questions over with someone who knows you well and understands the work you do. Then you can make a plan that works for you. It is a good idea to discuss your business decisions with another person, especially if you are feeling unwell, tired or upset.

Decisions to make

It may help to write down the decisions you need to make and who can help you.

  • Example: Should I work during treatment?
    My specialist nurse can tell me more about how the treatment might affect me.

Planning ahead

It is difficult to know how you will react to treatment until you start. This can make it hard to plan ahead and decide how much work to take on. It may help to let your colleagues or customers know you may need to change your plans at short notice.

It may help to think about what you could do in different situations.

  • Example: I may feel able to work more again.
    If this happens I could go back to my full working hours, and see how I cope. Or I could increase my working hours over several weeks, to get back to normal slowly. But I would need to be prepared to have less income.

I will slowly increase my working hours to make sure I give myself time to recover. I will call Macmillan’s financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 to find out if I can get any extra financial help during this time.

Returning to your business after treatment

If you are not sure when you might be ready to go back to work, try to give yourself options. When you are ready, you may find returning to work helps you feel a sense of normality.

If you can, plan to return to work gradually. Try to decide what is most important and just do those parts of your work until you feel stronger. Give yourself regular breaks – you can even put them in your diary.

It helps to remember that your recovery may not always be straightforward. You may have some setbacks or your situation may change over time. Try to stay flexible.

It is important to also listen to advice and guidance from your healthcare team. Your cancer type or treatment may mean there are specific limits about how much you can work. For example, if you had treatment for a brain tumour, you will usually not be allowed to drive for at least a year.

Closing your business

If your business is still successful

Some people make the decision to stop working completely 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. Take the time to think through your options. You can go to the Personal Finance Society (PFS) website to search for a financial adviser. Depending on your situation, you may be able to sell the business or transfer the ownership.

If your business is no longer successful

Some people may wish to continue their business. But despite their best efforts, it may start to fail. If you know your business is failing, you may want to close it down yourself before you are forced to.

It may take months to close a business fully. You will need to think carefully about the effect this will have on your finances. Consider the money you will get from other sources, such as a pension, savings, shares or benefits.

If you try to keep your business going but it continues to fail, there are many different outcomes to consider.

If you have a limited company that owes suppliers or lenders money it cannot pay, it may be forced into insolvency. An appointed person, called a liquidator, will take control of your business. They will sell the assets in order to pay the debts. This process is called winding up.

If you are a sole trader or part of a partnership, you can be forced into bankruptcy. In Scotland, this is called sequestration.

If your business is struggling, you can get free and confidential advice from Business Debtline if you live in England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in Northern Ireland, AdviceNI runs a free debt advice service.

Writing a plan

Writing a plan that outlines everything you need to do can help you protect your personal assets and reputation.

Your plan should include the following:

  • Collect all money owed to you. You could offer a discount for immediate payment. Try to do this before you notify your customers or clients that you will be closing your business. You may find it difficult to recover debts after.
  • Sell any remaining stock. You could consider a clearance sale.
  • Tell your creditors, including suppliers, banks and anyone else you owe money to.
  • Tell your customers and deal with any outstanding obligations. Return payments for products not delivered or services not provided. You may be able to claim on your business or professional insurance if you cannot fulfil a contract.
  • Give your landlord the agreed amount of notice to end your lease.
  • Give notice to any employees and follow regulations to ensure they are treated fairly.
  • Pay your company debts as far as possible. A financial adviser can talk to you about the best way to do this to protect yourself.

Other financial and legal steps

If you are a sole trader, you must tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) straight away that you are closing. This may also help your finances. If your income will be lower, you may be able to reduce your tax payments. There is helpful information about what you need to know about tax when you stop trading at

If you are trading as a limited company, the process of closing your business will depend on whether you can pay your company debts. While your company is being wound up, it must still file and pay tax returns. There is useful information on for businesses in Northern Ireland.

Getting support

It is important to speak to a financial adviser to follow the correct process. This can depend on whether you are a sole trader, a partner in a business or a director of a limited company.

If you are registered for VAT or employ staff, you will have extra responsibilities. This may include making redundancies. In England, Scotland and Wales, Jobcentre Plus and can advise you if you need to make redundancies. In Northern Ireland, visit or contact the Labour Relations Agency.

It is a good idea to ask a professional, such as an accountant, to advise you.

Your feelings

Deciding to give up your business is a big step. If work has been a big part of your life, it can be difficult to adjust. It may help to talk to someone about your feelings. This could be a family member or a friend.

Some people find it easier to talk to a counsellor. You may be able to contact a counsellor through the hospital, your GP, or a cancer support group.

Early retirement

You may decide to take early retirement on health grounds or for personal reasons. Talk to your pension provider or a financial adviser if you are thinking about this.

Ill-health retirement

You can normally only access private pension schemes from the age of 55. But you may be able to retire and claim your pension early because of ill health.

Your illness usually has to be permanent and stop you from working. But it may depend on the rules of your pension scheme.

If you qualify for ill-health early retirement, your pension scheme will tell you what your options are. You can also find out more from The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) on 0345 602 7021.

If your life expectancy is less than 12 months

If you have a life expectancy of less than 12 months, you may be able to retire because of serious ill health. You will usually get the whole of your pension as a one-off lump sum.

The whole sum will usually be tax-free. A registered medical professional must give evidence to the scheme administrator that your life expectancy is less than a year.

Any money you take from your pension, but do not spend or give away before you die, will become part of your estate. Your estate is the money and property you leave behind when you die.

Read more information about pensions.

You can also call our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 to talk about any financial worries you have.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 30 April 2019
Next review: 31 October 2021

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

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