Making treatment decisions

There may be different cancer treatment options available and you may need to decide which one to have. Your medical team will give you information about what the different treatments entail. They’ll also tell you about their side effects. You can discuss treatments’ risks and benefits with your doctors to decide which option is best for you.

You may find it helpful to ask for a second opinion. Your specialist or GP can refer you to another professional. However, asking for a second opinion may delay treatment.

The final decision about which treatment to have is yours. But, if you find it too stressful to make that decision, you can leave it to your doctors.

It is possible to get help from an occupational health adviser. They can help find ways for you to work around cancer and your treatment. If you’re self-employed you may need to pay for this service privately. Alternatively the NHS runs a scheme called NHS Health for Work. It offers free occupational health advice to small businesses including self-employed people. Visit

Making decisions about treatment

Sometimes two different types of treatment may be equally effective in treating a cancer, but have different side effects.

Doctors and other healthcare professionals can give you information about different treatments and how each may affect your day-to-day life and ability to work.

The final decision about which treatment to have, or whether to have treatment at all, is yours. It can help to find out as much as possible about the type of cancer you have and the treatments that are planned. You can then discuss the benefits and possible risks with your doctors and decide on the treatment that best suits your situation. You can also ask for a second opinion.

Treatment can affect people differently. So it’s difficult to predict exactly how treatment will affect you. For example, if two people are given the same dose of the same chemotherapy drug, one may have few side effects and be able to carry on working, while the other person may have severe side effects and be unable to work for a while.

Questions you may want to ask your healthcare team

  • What treatments are available for my type of cancer?
  • How effective is the treatment likely to be?
  • What are the benefits and disadvantages of the treatment?
  • How long will each treatment take and what’s involved?
  • Will I be admitted to hospital and, if so, for how long?
  • What are the possible side effects of treatment?
  • What can be done about the side effects of treatment?
  • How much is the treatment likely to affect my daily life?
  • How will the treatment affect my physical ability to do my job? For example, will I be able to drive/work shifts/travel by plane?
  • Will I still be able to work while I’m having the treatment?
  • What will happen if I don’t want to have any treatment?
  • Are there any treatment options that will make it easier for me to work? For example, can I be treated near my place of work?

Second opinion

You may want to get another medical opinion. Either your specialist or your GP should be willing to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion, if you feel it will be helpful.

Getting a second opinion may delay the start of your treatment, so you and your doctor need to be confident that it will give you useful information.

If you do see another doctor, it may be a good idea to take someone with you so that you can make sure your concerns are covered during the discussion.

Some people prefer to leave treatment decisions completely to their doctors, as they find this easier and less stressful. If you decide to do this, it’s still important to understand what your treatment will involve and how it will affect your ability to work.

Occupational health advice

Some people working for an employer have access to help from an occupational health adviser. This is a health professional, such as a nurse or doctor, who specialises in workplace health issues.

Occupational health advisers use their medical knowledge and understanding of various jobs to help people make decisions about work.

They can advise you on health and safety laws, and find ways for you to work around the cancer and its treatment. Occupational health advice is not part of the treatment plan for most people with cancer. However, research suggests that more working people with cancer could benefit from this advice.

As a self-employed person, you would usually need to pay for this advice privately. You can find a private service through the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association.

Back to Information for employees

Policies and resources

People affected by cancer may face challenges related to work. Macmillan can offer information and support

Working during treatment

Deciding whether to work during cancer treatment can be very difficult. It depends very much on individual circumstances.

Coping with side effects

Cancer treatment can cause different side effects. They can have an impact on your capacity to work.

Talking to your employer

You’re not required to tell your employer about your cancer, but it can help them to support you during treatment.