Stopping work

Stopping work because of cancer, either for a while or permanently, is a difficult decision to make. Find out more about things you may need to think about.

If you decide to stop working

You may decide to stop working when you are diagnosed with cancer. You may want to focus on treatment and time with family or friends. You might be worried about coping with this change. But you may find it gives you more time to do things that are important to you.

Try to let family or friends know if you are dealing with difficult feelings about giving up work. You may find it helpful to talk to a professional counsellor. You can ask your GP or nurse about this.

Thinking about your finances

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 about your financial options, you can call our financial guides for free on 0808 808 0000. They can talk through your options and give you advice and support.

Help for carers and family members

If a partner or family member takes time off work to look after you, they may be entitled to compassionate or unpaid leave.

We have more information about working while caring for someone with cancer and employment rights at work as a carer.

Resigning from work

If you decide to resign from work, you will need to write a letter to your employer. On it, you will need to state the date you wish to end your employment.

You may have to give a notice period. The time you need to give will be outlined in your contract. Your employer will then pay you a wage to cover this period.

If you are off sick at the time, this may be less than your working wage.

It is important to make sure you get paid any holiday you are owed and other benefits your work may offer.

Early retirement

You may want to take early retirement because of your health or for personal reasons. If you do, it is a good idea to get advice from an independent pension adviser.

Taking early retirement is a big decision. Macmillan’s financial guides can help you understand your options and things to think about first. You can call them for free on 0808 808 0000.

Ill-health retirement

You may be able to get an early payment from your pension because of ill health. This depends 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 Money and Pension Service on 0115 965 9570 or by visiting

You can also get advice from an independent financial adviser. Getting the right advice may help you get a higher income from your pension.

These are some things to think about:

  • If you access a workplace or private pension due to ill health, you may get a bigger annual income or lump sum compared to someone who retires early while medically fit to work.
  • People who are expected to live for less than 12 months may be able to take their whole pension as a tax-free lump sum. There is more information about this at
  • Some pension schemes may not allow you to retire early if you are fit to work. Make sure you check your policy.

It is important to think about your own situation before making any decisions. For example, you might need to decide between taking a:

  • large lump-sum payment plus a small monthly income
  • small lump-sum payment plus a large monthly income.

It is important to think about any benefits you are claiming. For example, Employment and Support Allowance may be reduced if you get payments of more than a certain amount each week from a pension.

If you are expected to live for less than 12 months

If you are expected to live for less than 12 months and you are aged under 75, you may be able to retire because of serious ill health. You may be entitled to 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 and 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.

You can speak to one of our financial guides for free on 0808 808 0000 about your options. 

It is common to have many different emotions when you are told you have cancer. These can be difficult to cope with. We have more information about cancer and your emotions.

If you are self-employed

Deciding to give up your business is a big step. There are practical and legal things to think about.

Even if you are sure that closing your business is the right decision, it can be difficult to make such a big change to your life. Emotional support is available to help you cope. You can call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 0000.

We have more information on closing your business if you are self-employed.

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.