Thinking about returning to work

For many people, returning to work when they feel ready is a big step in their recovery. It can help you:

  • get back into a routine
  • feel a sense of normality
  • feel more financially secure.

You may feel nervous about doing your job well or how people will react to you returning to work. You might still be coping with side effects or difficult feelings. Or you may feel too well to stay at home but not quite well enough to deal with work pressures.

The questions on this page may help you think about going back to work after or during cancer treatment.

Your employer can do lots to support your return to work, so it is also helpful to talk to them. There are also different organisations that can support you. These include the following:

  • Access to Work gives advice to people with long-term health conditions and their employers. Gives grants to pay for practical support to help you do your job.
  • Access to Work (NI) gives support and advice to employees with disabilities and their employers.

Coping with side effects at work

Many people return to work after treatment. But some people have ongoing treatment side effects, which can affect their work. These are called late effects or long-term side effects and may include:

  • fatigue (tiredness) for months or sometimes years after treatment
  • soreness or limited movement
  • eating problems
  • needing to use the toilet more often due to bladder or bowel changes.

You may need support from your employer to agree to some reasonable adjustments that may help you.

Questions about preparing to go back to work

You might have questions about preparing to go back to work after some time off. You might still be having treatment. Or you might have finished your treatment.

Our work and cancer FAQ page has answers to some of the questions people ask about returning to work.

Can I make a return-to-work plan?

You and your manager can agree on a return-to-work plan. This should be as flexible as possible. You should agree to meet regularly in case you need to change anything.

Make sure you are fully involved in any decisions about your return to work. It can be helpful to write notes in your meetings. You may also want someone to come to the meetings with you. They can support you and help you remember what is said.

  • If your work has an occupational health adviser

    Your manager can arrange for you to see the occupational health adviser. You can keep in touch with them until you are fully back at work.

  • If your work does not have an occupational health service

    You can speak to our work support advisers for free by calling Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00. They can give you information about staying in or returning to work following a cancer diagnosis.

You can also ask your doctor or another healthcare professional for a fit note. This explains how your health affects what you can do at work. It can be useful to have when talking to your employer about changes to your job. For a guide on fit notes, visit

What are reasonable adjustments?

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. 

For example, they may be able to help you plan a phased return to work. This means slowly increasing your hours and returning to your usual working pattern over a period of time.

It is important that you discuss any reasonable adjustments with your employer. You should agree on them before they are put in place.

We have more information about reasonable adjustments.

Finances when returning to work

Before you go back to work, you may need to think about how this will affect your finances.

If your mortgage or any loans were being paid by an insurance policy, this will end when you go back to work. If you are thinking of working part time, check how much money you need to cover your monthly outgoings.

Check if you have any income from occupational pensions, private pensions or life assurance. You might be able to freeze, transfer or cash in a pension.

If you have been out of work for a long time and have money problems, StepChange Debt Charity can give you advice.

You can contact Macmillan’s financial guides for free on 0808 808 00 00. They can help you understand your options.

Related pages

Questions about not going back to work

Some people decide not to return to work. Or they choose to do something different. Others may not be able to return to work because of how cancer affects their health. 

Our work and cancer FAQ page has answers to some of the questions people ask about stopping work. We also have information about finding a new job.

Related pages

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 2023
Next review: 01 September 2026
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.