1. Understanding the significance of work for people living with cancer

Not everyone with cancer will be able to work, but 87% of people who are employed when diagnosed say continuing to work is important. For many, work helps with a sense of normality, positivity and self-esteem and a very legitimate coping mechanism. 
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2. Supporting equality in the workplace for people living with cancer

Under equality law, employers should make reasonable adjustments. Your conversations with patients about how cancer may impact work can empower them to discuss their needs with employers. This can reduce anxiety and support them to stay in or return to work.

3. Using Fit Notes to guide discussions

View the Fit Note as a conversation tool rather than something on your list of jobs to do. It helps you provide advice to patients about the functional effects of their condition on their fitness for work – a bit like a prescription for work advice.

4. Communicating with managers

Encourage patients to discuss work support needs early with line managers or HR. Agreeing on communication and return to-work plans can help people stay in touch with work and ease the transition back.

5. Using Fit Note comments box

The Fit Note comments box is your opportunity to highlight the impact cancer might have on your patient’s ability to work; this can help their conversations with their employer or Jobcentre. For example, ‘chemotherapy will finish in X weeks, see me about fitness for work two weeks after’, or ‘visits to hospital required every week for blood test and chemo’.

6. Access to Work schemes

Access to Work or Access to Work (NI) are schemes that provide practical support at work to people aged 16 and over who have a disability or health condition that makes it hard to do their job or get to and from work.

7. Signposting Macmillan’s Work Support Service

Signpost patients to Macmillan’s Work Support Service, available Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm on 0808 808 00 00. This supports people with talking to employers, as well as negotiating adjustments, sick pay and taking time off. It can also refer those with more complex needs to one-off legal advice.

We have more information about money and work.

8. Providing advice within your own competencies

You don’t need to be an expert to provide helpful advice, but it’s important you work within your competencies. Use the comments box to add suggestions you feel confident about, such as ‘Uncertain of adaptations possible – suggest you discuss with your line manager’.

9. Cancer care reviews and work-related discussions

Cancer Care Reviews are another opportunity to have work-related conversations. Macmillan templates within relevant IT systems can prompt holistic conversations, such as about work, and provide downloadable information you can share with patients to help them access further support.

10. Resources for discussing work with people living with cancer

Macmillan’s Work Support Route Guide helps you discuss work with people living with cancer and provide information about other available support. Additionally, the Council for Work and Health has developed Talking Work: A Guide for Doctors.

About our information

Written by Jacqui Graves

Next planned review: January 2025

We make every effort to ensure the information in these pages is accurate and correct at the date of publication, but it is of necessity of a brief and general nature, and this should not replace your own good clinical judgement. Or be regarded as a substitute for taking professional advice in appropriate circumstances. In particular check any drug doses, side-effects and interactions. Save insofar as any such liability cannot be excluded at law, we do not accept any liability in relation to the use of or reliance on any information contained in on this page, or third-party information or websites referred to in them.