How cancer may affect your work life

Cancer can cause uncertainties in your work life. You may not know how it will affect work in the short term or in the future. It is a good idea to contact your manager or human resources (HR or personnel) department early on. If they know about the possible effects of the cancer or treatment on your ability to work, they can support you better.

You will need time off work to have tests, appointments and treatments. Some people stop working during cancer treatment and for a while after until they feel ready to go back. Others carry on working, perhaps with reduced hours or changes to their job. Some people may decide not to go back to work. Or they may choose to do something different. Some others may not be able to go back to work because of the effects of cancer on their health.

Knowing more about the cancer and its treatments can help you understand the possible effects on your work life. Your cancer doctor or nurse can give you more information.

The main treatments are:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • hormonal therapy
  • targeted therapies.

You may have a combination of treatments.

Cancer and your work life

Cancer can cause uncertainties that are hard to cope with in different areas of your life. One of these may be your work life. You may not know how it will affect work in the short term or in the future.

If you can, it’s a good idea to contact your manager or human resources (HR or personnel) department early on. You can talk to them about the possible effects of your illness on your work. If your manager knows about the possible effects of the cancer or treatment on your ability to work, they can support you better. If your workplace has an occupational health adviser you could ask your manager to refer you to them. They keep everything confidential if you ask them to.

Some people stop working during treatment and for a while after until they feel ready to go back. Others carry on working, perhaps with reduced hours or changes to their job. Working may give you a sense of normality and routine or may be essential for your finances. Your work may also be an important place for friendships and social life.

After treatment, going back to work may help you to feel you’re getting back to normal. Some people may decide not to go back to work. Or they may choose to do something different. Some others may not be able to go back to work because of the effects of cancer on their health.

How cancer affects your work life will depend on different things, such as:

  • the type of cancer and its stage (if it has spread)
  • your treatment and its side effects
  • your finances
  • the practical support you have.

You will need time off work to have tests, appointments and treatments. You may also need time to cope with and adjust to your feelings. It can be difficult to concentrate and manage your work when you feel anxious, shocked or upset.

Some people work around their treatment. Others may need more rest or feel too unwell to work.

Knowing more about treatment and its possible side effects can help you make decisions about your work life. Your doctor may tell you what your limits are with work. With some treatments, you may not know what to expect until you start.

Even then, things may change during and after treatment. You may become more tired or have other side effects that are harder to cope with. Because of this, your ability to work may change.

People can carry on working or return to work with support from their employer. The law says your employer has to consider making reasonable adjustments (changes) to help you. There may be different people at your workplace who can give you advice. There are also different organisations that can help.


Treatments and side effects

The main treatments for cancer are surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapies. You may have a combination of treatments.

You could think about making adjustments to make things easier for you at work. For example, this could mean changing your hours or the types of jobs you take on.

Treatment side effects may change over time. For example, you may become more tired. Review how you are working as your situation changes.

For five weeks I had treatment every day from Monday to Friday. My timetable was adjusted so I finished early and could get to these appointments.

Julia

I took the opportunity to work in my own office and stayed away from folks who clearly had a cold. Then during the few days after chemo where I felt sick or rough, I worked from home.

Ryan

Back to If you are an employee with cancer

Your rights at work

If you have or have had cancer, you are protected by law from unfair treatment at work.