Coping at work during treatment

The impact cancer treatment has on your work will depend on your situation. Find out more about the support you can get at work during treatment.

Keeping in touch with your employer during treatment

When you are having treatment for cancer, it is a good idea to have regular conversations with your employer. This can help them support you better.

If your workplace has an occupational health adviser, you could ask your manager to refer you to them. Your occupational health adviser will keep everything confidential, if you ask them to.

You may have talked to your healthcare team and your employer before treatment started. But, with some treatments, you may not know what to expect until you start.

Time off work for treatment

If you are going to be off work for a while, you may want to make a plan with your manger. You could agree:

  • how you would like to be contacted
  • how often you would like to be contacted
  • who will contact you.

Talking to colleagues

Talking to the people you work with about your diagnosis can be difficult. But it can help people support you and understand changes. We have more information about talking to colleagues about cancer.

Employment rights

If you have, or have ever had cancer, the law considers you to be disabled. 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.

If you feel you are being discriminated against, it is best to talk to your:

  • supervisor
  • manager
  • human resources (HR) manager.

We have more information about types of discrimination and what you can do.

If you have cancer, the law says your employer must make reasonable adjustments to help you. These are changes to your workplace or working arrangements that allow you to remain at or return to work.

We have more information about your rights at work when you have cancer.

Making decisions about work

When you are having treatment for cancer, you might start to think about work differently. You may:

  • miss your work or your colleagues and want to get back as soon as possible
  • want to work fewer hours during treatment or when treatment finishes
  • want to get a different job now or when treatment finishes
  • not want to return to work (take early retirement).

What you decide will depend on your personal circumstances and what you feel is right for you. You can also change your mind as treatment goes on or if your situation changes.

We have more information about finding a new job or not returning to work.

Coping with side effects at work

The impact cancer treatment has on your work will depend on your situation. You may find that your side effects are not what you expected, or that they change over time. For example, you may feel more tired as treatment goes on.

If you are working alongside having treatment, there are things you can do to help you cope. Your employer can also help you manage.

Risk of infection

Some cancer treatments can affect your immune system and make you more likely to get infections. It can help to avoid people with symptoms of an infectious illness. We have more information on the risk of infection at work.

If you are self-employed

If you are self-employed, you may have more control over your working life than someone who is employed. But you may also have extra pressure, and you might not have the same rights.

Your rights if you are self-employed

You may have legal protection against discrimination if you are employed under a contract with an employer. If you have your own business or are not under contract, you may not be legally protected from discrimination.

Making decisions about your work

Deciding what to do about work if you are self-employed can be complicated. You may want to keep working, or need to financially. Or you may want or need to close your business.

If you are taking a lot of time off, you may want to tell clients or get some help with your business.

Help from others

How much help and support you have from other people may affect your decisions about work. You could ask for help with practical tasks, such as shopping and cooking.

If you have children, you could ask someone you trust to take them to or from school or activities. If you need support with childcare, we have more information. You may find it helpful to talk to someone at the hospital, such as a social worker, for advice.