Not returning to work after a cancer diagnosis

Some people decide to give up work when they are diagnosed with cancer. They may want to focus on getting on with treatment and spending time with family and close friends.

If work has been an important part of your life, you may worry about coping with this change. But you may find it gives you a new outlook and time to do things that are important to you. Some people may decide to return to work later on or choose to do something different. Others may decide to get involved in volunteering. It’s about what’s right for you and your situation.

Let close family or friends know if you are coping with difficult feelings about giving up work. Some people may find it helpful to talk to a professional counsellor. Ask your doctor or nurse about this.

Before you decide to give up work, you may need to think about how it will affect your finances. When you give up work, you lose rights associated with employment, for example:

  • occupational sick pay
  • death in service benefit
  • Statutory Sick Pay
  • pension rights
  • any occupation-linked private medical insurance.

Help for carers and family members

If a partner or family member is taking time off work to look after you, they may be entitled to compassionate or unpaid leave. They may find it helpful to read our information on working while caring for someone with cancer.

Early retirement

If you want to take early retirement on health grounds or for personal reasons, you need advice from your pension administrator. You may be able to take early payment of your pension on the grounds of ill health depending on the rules of your particular pension scheme.

Early retirement is a big decision, particularly because of health reasons. Macmillan’s financial guides can help you understand the options available to you and questions to think about first. Getting the right advice may help you get a higher income from your pension.

Call us on 0808 808 00 00 to speak to a financial guide. We also have detailed information about pensions. Or you can get advice from an independent financial adviser.

Some of the options you may need to think about are:

  • Drawing on an occupational pension for health reasons can mean you get a higher amount of pension.
  • People who have a life expectancy of less than 12 months are normally able to take their pension fund in the form of a tax-free lump sum.
  • If you choose to retire early but are medically fit to work, the level of your pension may be lower.
  • Some schemes may not allow you to retire early if you’re fit to work so you need to check this.

You will need to think about your own circumstances before deciding on a final settlement. This may mean deciding between a large lump-sum payment plus a small monthly income, or a small lump-sum payment plus a large monthly income.

If you’re claiming Employment and Support Allowance, it may be reduced if you get payments of more than a certain amount each week from a pension.

I stopped work straight away. I was so shell-shocked, there was no way I could have held it together to go to work. I have two young children, so even if I could have managed work, I would have had nothing left for them at the end of the day.


I was able to get a favourable financial deal from my employer, and I was able to take retirement and still work part-time. So in that way it worked out very well. But I still felt I had a bit of my career left to run.


Back to The impact cancer may have on work

Taking time off work

If cancer or its treatment prevent you from working, you may qualify for benefits that can provide some financial help.