Work and cancer FAQs

You may not know how cancer will affect your work now and in the future. Here you can find answers to frequently asked questions about work and cancer.

Work issues and time off

You can download our PDF of FAQs about work and cancer. It has information about who may be able to help answer your questions.

  • Do I have to tell my employer I have or have had cancer?

    You do not have to tell your employer you have cancer or are having cancer treatment. But it may help. Many people find that their employers are supportive. You can ask them to keep things confidential. This means they will not tell anyone what you have told them. If you do not find your employer to be supportive, we have more information about resolving problems at work. You can also our call the Macmillan Support Line for free on Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 to speak to our Work Support team for more advice.

  • Do I have to tell people at work I have or have had cancer?

    It is up to you if you want to tell colleagues about your diagnosis. Talking to the people you work with about it can be difficult. You may decide to tell the people you feel closest to at first. They may be able to help you plan how to tell others. Or you can ask your manager to tell your colleagues about your diagnosis.

  • Will I need to take time off work?

    Some people keep working during treatment. They may be able to reduce their hours or make changes to their job. These are examples of reasonable adjustments. Others may take time away from work during treatment and for a while after. The type of leave you take depends on any leave policies your employer has. It may help to chat to our Work Support team about what your options are.

  • Will I get paid for time I take off work?

    You may need to take time off for appointments and treatment. You do not have a legal right to paid time off for things like medical appointments unless your employment contract specifically states this. But if you talk to your employer as soon as possible, you can both agree on what to do.

    Your employer may allow you to have time off work in different ways, including:

    • sick leave
    • reducing the number of hours you work in a day or week, which could be temporary or permanent
    • approved unpaid leave
    • paid holiday leave (annual leave)
    • paid or unpaid compassionate leave
    • flexible working – for example, you could try working condensed hours over fewer days.

    Your manager or HR manager can give you information about the sickness policy and other options. They can explain if different types of leave are paid or unpaid, and what you are entitled to.

  • How will side effects of treatment affect me at work?

    Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will give you more information about the cancer and possible treatments. You might want to talk to your manager about the side effects of your treatment. If you tell them how you are feeling, they may be able to support you. We have more information about different cancer types, treatments and their side effects.

  • Will I get benefits if I cannot work due to cancer or cancer treatment?

    You may be unable to work during your cancer treatment. There are different benefits that you may be able to get. Sick pay and employment and support allowance (ESA) are some examples. We have more information about benefits or you can call one of our Welfare Rights guides for more information.

  • What is a Statement of Fitness for Work, or fit note?

    If you are off sick for more than 7 days, you will need a fit note to cover your illness. This is also called a sick note or a Statement of Fitness for Work. This explains how your health affects what you can do at work. You can get a fit note from any healthcare professional who has been treating you. For example, this could be your GP, specialist nurse, occupational therapist, pharmacist or physiotherapist.

  • Where can I find out my legal rights about cancer and work?

    If you have cancer, the law considers this a disability. This means you cannot be treated less favourably than people who do not have cancer because you have cancer. You also cannot be treated less favourably for reasons connected to the cancer. That would be discrimination.

    If you have been diagnosed with cancer in the past, you will continue to have legal protection against discrimination even if you no longer have cancer. You will also have protection if you move to another employer.

    We have more information in our Your Rights at Work booklet or you can call the Macmillan Support Line for free on Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 and talk to one of our work support advisers.

Related pages

Returning to work

  • Do I need to give my employer any notice before coming back to work?

    Your employer can do lots to support your return to work, so it is helpful to talk to them. They can talk to you about reasonable adjustments and any support they can give you.

  • Can I make any changes to my job and job description?

    Reasonable adjustments are changes to the workplace or your working arrangements that allow you to keep working or return to work. Your employer should consider making reasonable adjustments to help you return to work. It is important that you discuss any of these with your employer. You should agree on them before they are put in place.

  • If I find it difficult to cope when I am back at work, where can I get support?

    If you can you can try talking to your employer for support. You can call the Macmillan Support Line for free on Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 to speak to our Work Support team.

Related pages

Stopping work

What if I do not want to go back to the same job or want to stop working?

Before you decide to stop working, you may need to think about how it will affect your finances. When you give up work, you lose any employment rights you might have had. These include:

  • occupational sick pay
  • death in service benefit
  • Statutory Sick Pay
  • pension rights
  • any private medical insurance linked with your employer.

If you are thinking of stopping work and want to talk your financial options, you can call our financial guides for free on 0808 808 00 00. They can talk through your options and give you advice and support.

Questions for carers to ask

If you are a working carer these are some questions you can ask:

  • Can I take time off work to go to hospital appointments with the person I am caring for?
  • Where can I learn about my legal rights as a working carer?
  • Does my employer have a policy for supporting carers?
  • What types of paid and unpaid leave are available?
  • Can I have flexible working?
  • What benefits could I get if I continue working, stop working or go back to work?
  • If I make adjustments such as working fewer hours, how will this affect my pay and benefits?
  • How can I meet other working carers to share my experiences and learn from others?


If you are self employed these are some questions you can ask:

  • Do I have to tell business contacts and customers I have or have had cancer?
  • What benefits can I get if I am self-employed?
  • What support can I get to keep my business running?
  • Can I get financial help?
  • How will cancer affect my work?
  • Can I get help at work – access to work scheme
  • Will I need to do less with my business for a while?
  • Will I need to run my business in a different way, to make time for 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?
  • When can I return to work after treatment?
  • What do I need to do if I want to close my business?

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by Michelle Rouse Griffiths, Professional Development and Knowledge Lead, Macmillan Cancer Support.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 September 2026
Next review: 01 September 2023

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

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.