Self-employment and cancer

Over four million people in the UK are self-employed. You may worry about how a cancer diagnosis will affect your business. You may worry that you won’t be able to keep the money coming in or that you will have to close your business. If you and your family rely on the income from your business, you may feel under pressure.

Support is available from different organisations and you may be eligible for state benefits. You can find out about the support available by calling the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.

A cancer diagnosis can trigger many strong emotions. Feelings such as anger, sadness or fear may affect you at different periods during or after treatment. Having to give up work temporarily or for good may also be difficult to deal with. You may feel a loss of self-esteem or loneliness.

It can help to be open about those feelings and talk to your family, your doctor or a counsellor. They will be able to help you cope with how you are feeling.

Being self-employed

About 4.6 million people in the UK are self-employed. Running your own business can be hugely rewarding, but a cancer diagnosis can be particularly worrying if you work this way.

You may have some of the following concerns:

  • How will my business be affected? You may need to make decisions about how to keep your business going during and after cancer treatment.
  • How will I cope financially? If you need to reduce your working hours, the cash flow of your business could be affected. It could also affect regular repayments of a business loan, for example.
  • Who will support me? Being self-employed may mean you work more independently. You may not have the same kind of support that someone working for a larger organisation might have after being diagnosed with cancer.

At the same time, being self-employed can have advantages when you are going through cancer. You may be able to work in a more flexible way and set your own pace.

There is also support available to help you. This includes:

  • Support from charities like Macmillan – from information to emotional support. Call us on 0808 808 00 00 to find out more.
  • Small business and self-employment guidance from government schemes around the UK. This includes Business Support Helpline (England), Business Gateway (Scotland), Business Wales Helpline and Invest Northern Ireland.
  • Financial support to help you stay in work from the Access to Work scheme, if you are eligible.
  • State benefits from the government to support you when you are ill or unable to work.

We give more details about the different types of support available throughout this information.

How cancer may affect your work

How cancer affects your work life will depend on different things, including the type of cancer and its stage (if it has spread).

You may have symptoms such as tiredness, weight loss, breathlessness or pain. Any of these could affect your ability to work or run your business.

Finding out as much as possible about the cancer can help you plan for your business and finances. It is also important to learn as much as you can about your treatment plan. The treatment and its side effects may also affect your ability to work.

Your GP will be able to give you general advice and support. Your cancer doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals can give you more detailed information.

In England, Scotland and Wales, a government service called Fit for Work has a free helpline. You can speak to an occupational health adviser on 0800 032 6235.

We can also give you more information about your cancer type.

Access to work

Access to Work is a government programme for workers, including self-employed people. It can help you if you have a long-term health condition that affects how you do your job. It gives advice and practical support to meet extra costs that may arise because of your health.

The scheme might pay for:

  • special aids and equipment you need at work as a direct result of your condition
  • travel to and from work if you can’t use public transport
  • a support worker to help you in the workplace.

To apply in England, Scotland and Wales, visit

There is a different system in Northern Ireland. Contact an employment adviser in your local Jobs and Benefits Office or Jobcentre. You can also find out more at

Your feelings

Being diagnosed with cancer and having to take time away from your business can cause a range of emotions. You may have invested a lot of time and money to make your business successful, and feel angry that you can’t work when you have a lot to do. You might worry about how the business will continue and how you will pay your bills.

When dealing with a cancer diagnosis, people often say they feel lonely and isolated. These feelings can affect people at different times in their illness. If you are unable to work for periods of time, this may add to a sense of isolation.

Having cancer can also make you feel very vulnerable. You may feel as though you have lost your independence. You might feel tired and stressed, and it may seem as though things you used to find easy are now much more difficult.

Taking a lot of time off can make you feel out of touch with what is going on in your business and in your trade or profession. You may lose confidence in your ability to do your job well. Or you may worry that customers will feel let down or take their business elsewhere. Some people can lose a sense of normality when they are not working, and some find they lose self-esteem.

All these things can be hard to cope with, but you may find ways of adapting to your illness and treatment that will give you a new focus and sense of control. This can take some time, and your confidence and self-esteem will need to be built up again gradually.

Talking about your feelings

Talking about your feelings can often help. Some people worry that by asking for help they are being a burden. However, people are usually pleased to be involved and able to support you. It can be difficult to know who to talk to and what to say. It is important to speak to someone you feel comfortable with and can trust. We have information on talking about cancer that might help you find ways to talk to other people and ask for support.

Who you could talk to

You may find it helpful to join a support group, where you can talk to other people who have been affected by cancer. Your hospital might be able to put you in touch with one. Or our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 can tell you about local support groups and online communities. You might also like to visit our Online Community.

You may want to speak to a partner, family member or friend, or a health professional involved in your care. Or you may prefer to talk to a trained professional not directly involved in your care, for example a counsellor. Counselling can help people cope with their feelings and help them find ways of talking to other people. It can also help restore self-confidence. Some GP surgeries provide counselling, or your GP can refer you to a local counselling service.

If you feel low for a period of time, it is important to speak to your doctor about your feelings. They can then refer you for more expert help if necessary. If you are feeling very low and distressed, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email for 24-hour confidential support.

We have more information about coping with the emotional effects of cancer, which you may find helpful.

Emma’s support was huge because when it was all happening I couldn’t see past tomorrow with regards to my business, with regards to my home.