Work and cancer

How will cancer affect my work life?

You may not know how cancer will affect work in the short term or in the future.

How cancer affects your work life will depend on different things, such as:

  • 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 need time off work to have tests, appointments and treatments. You may also need time to cope with your feelings. For example if you feel anxious, shocked or upset. Some people stop working during cancer treatment and for a while after until they feel ready to go back. Others carry on working, perhaps with reduced hours or changes to their job.

Booklets and resources

How will cancer affect me if I'm self-employed?

If you are self-employed, and you need to reduce your working hours, your business could be affected. You may not have the same kind of support that someone working for larger organisation might have. But you may be able to work in a more flexible way and set your own pace.

We have more information about how cancer may affect your business.

How do I make decisions about work if I have cancer?

You may need to think about different things when making decisions about work. Your finances and how your treatment will affect you are usually important factors.

It can be difficult to predict exactly how your cancer will affect you. You may not be able to make a decision about work until after your first treatment.

Knowing more about a treatment and its possible side effects can help you make a decision about your work life. You can talk to your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or other healthcare professionals about how treatment might affect your work. They can give you information and tell you what to expect. Let them know what your job involves so you can talk about any particular difficulties.

You may also want to talk to your partner if you have one, or your family or friends.

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

Will I need to take time off work?

Whether you need to take time off work will depend on:

  • the type of cancer you have
  • the type of treatment you will have
  • what your usual work routine is.

Talking to your healthcare team is the best way to understand how the cancer will affect your working life.

What are my rights at work?

If you have cancer, the law in the UK considers this as a disability. This means you cannot be treated less favourably than other people (who do not have cancer) because you have cancer, or for reasons connected to the cancer. That would be discrimination.

There are laws that protect you from being discriminated against at work because of cancer:

  • If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, the Equality Act 2010 protects you.
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects you.

The legislation protects you from different types of legislation, including:

  • harassment – when you experience unwanted behaviour due to your disability, which makes you feel degraded or intimidated
  • victimisation – when you are treated badly after making a complaint about discrimination or harassment.

If you are self-employed, you may not have legal protection against discrimination. In some cases, you may be protected against discrimination if you are employed under a contract. This means there is an agreement between you and an employer that you will personally do work and be paid for it.

People with their own business may not be protected from disability discrimination by a customer or client.

Even if the law does not protect you, talking to people you work with about the cancer and its impact can often help.

We have more information about cancer and employment rights if you are employed or self-employed.

Booklets and resources

Am I entitled to sick pay if I have cancer?

If you work for an employer and take time off sick, you may be able to get sick pay. This could be one of the following.

  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) — money that most workers can get if they are too sick to work.
  • Occupational or company sick pay — this is a company’s own sick pay scheme. If your employer has one, it will be written into your contract. It may give you more money by adding an extra amount to SSP. Some employers pay staff in full for a certain amount of sick days.

We have more information about sick pay entitlement.

You can also call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 to speak to our work support team.

What benefits am I entitled to?

In addition to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and Occupational or company sick pay (see above), you may be able get other types of financial help if cancer affects your ability to work:

  • Employment and Support Allowance — you may be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This is a benefit for people under State Pension age who cannot work because of illness or disability.
  • Universal Credit — if you are under State Pension age and on a low income, you may be able to get Universal Credit. Universal Credit has replaced six other benefits, including Housing Benefit in most circumstances.
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP) — this benefit is for people aged between 16 and 64 who have problems moving around and looking after themselves. To claim Personal Independence Payment, you must have had these difficulties for at least 3 months and expect them to last for at least 9 months.


If you are self-employed, there are a number of benefits you may be able to get:

You can call our welfare rights advisers and financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 for free. They are trained to help you to claim any benefits you may be eligible for.

Other forms of financial support

There are some other ways you may be able to get help with money:

  • Loans and grants — if you need financial help, there are many grants and loans available from local and national organisations.
  • Insurance — you, or your partner if you have one, may have insurance policies that will pay out because of your situation.
  • Pension lump sum — if you have a private pension, you may be able to take some of this money out early.
  • Break from payments — your insurer or financial adviser can give you advice about any life insurance policies or pension plans you have. You may be able to take a break from payments.

Do I have to tell my employer I have cancer?

You do not have to tell your employer you have cancer. But if your employer knows about your illness, they may be able to make reasonable adjustments. For example, this could mean time off for hospital appointments or flexible working hours.

If you do not tell your employer and your ability to do your job is affected, it could cause problems later. They may ask questions if you miss a lot of work or you are less productive.

What kind of support can I have from my employer?

There are different ways your employer can support you at work. They usually understand that this is a stressful time and try to be helpful.

Many employers make changes to your workplace or working arrangements that allow you to remain at work. They may allow a flexible working arrangement, or change certain parts of your job to make things easier for you. These are called reasonable adjustments.

There are also other ways your employer may be able to support you. They can tell you:

  • about different company policies
  • if there is an occupational health service or an employee assistance programme
  • about useful organisations that could help you.

You may need help at work even after your employer has made reasonable changes. If this is the case, you can contact Access to Work. This is a government programme. It provides advice and practical support if you have a long-term health condition that affects the way you do your job. This might include help with extra costs caused by your health condition.

Your employer can access Macmillan at Work. It offers training and resources for employers, to help them better support employees living with or affected by cancer.

How will cancer affect my feelings about work?

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

  • 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.

Talking about your feelings can often help. You might worry that by asking for help, you are being a burden. However, people are usually pleased to be asked and are able to support you. It can be difficult to know who to talk to and what to say. It is important to speak to someone you feel comfortable with and trust.

Booklets and resources

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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