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.
The effects of surgery depend on the type of operation you have. If you have day surgery, you may only need a short time off work. But you may need radiotherapy or chemotherapy afterwards. This can have more effect on your ability to work.
A bigger operation means having more time off work to adjust and recover. After certain operations, some people may need therapies to help, for example physiotherapy or speech therapy.
If surgery affects how a part of your body works, it may prevent you doing certain parts of your job.
Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. You usually have it Monday to Friday as an outpatient. It can take up to several weeks depending on your course of treatment.
Treatment itself only takes a few minutes. But travelling to and from the hospital and waiting can take up a large part of the day.
Some people feel able to work during radiotherapy but may need to reduce their hours. The radiographers (who give the radiotherapy) may be able to time your treatment for before or after your work hours. Other people stop working completely during radiotherapy and for a few weeks afterwards.
Side effects of radiotherapy
Radiotherapy can make you very tired. This can continue for weeks or months after treatment is over. Other side effects depend on the part of your body that is being treated. Most side effects last for a few weeks after treatment and then gradually improve.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. You usually have chemotherapy as an outpatient. It is given by injection into a vein (intravenously) or as tablets. Some people may need to go into hospital for a few days.
You usually have a break of a few weeks in between treatments to allow your body to recover. Some people can’t work because they are too unwell. Others may take a few days off after each treatment and work reduced hours.
Side effects of chemotherapy
Side effects can include:
- risk of infection or risk of bleeding (because of the effects on your blood cells)
- hair loss
- feeling sick
If you feel able to work, there are precautions you may need to take to reduce your risk of infection.
Hormonal therapies reduce the level of certain hormones or block their effects on the cancer cells. You usually have these drugs as tablets, for months or possibly years. Some are given as injections every few weeks or months.
Side effects of hormonal therapies
Hormonal therapies usually have less of an effect on your ability to work. They can cause tiredness, weight gain, hot flushes, sweats and muscle pain.
Targeted therapy drugs interfere with the way cancer cells grow. They often have less troublesome side effects than chemotherapy. You can have them as a drip (intravenous infusion) or as tablets. They are often given along with other treatments.
Side effects of targeted therapies
Possible side effects include chills, headaches, a raised temperature, lowered resistance to infection and tiredness.
You may be able to carry on working if you are having a targeted therapy on its own. But tiredness and other side effects may sometimes make it difficult.
We have information about different cancer types and treatments, and their side effects. Call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.