How treatment might affect your work

Knowing how cancer treatment may affect your work can be difficult. Find out more about the decisions you may need to make in the future.

Thinking about work

You may not know how cancer and treatment will affect work in the short term or in the future. It will depend on your situation.

You may need time off work to have tests, appointments and treatment. Some people work while having treatment. Others may need more rest or feel too unwell to work.

Talking to your employer

If you can, it is a good idea to contact your manager or a HR manager as soon as possible. You can talk to them about how cancer or treatment might affect your ability to work. This can help them support you better.

You may not know what to expect until you start treatment. This can make it hard to decide how much work you will be able to do. Let your employer know that things may change during treatment before you start. That way, they will understand you may need to change plans.

Talking to colleagues

Talking to the people you work with about your diagnosis can be difficult. But it can help people support you and understand changes. We have more information about talking to colleagues about cancer.

Making decisions about work

Knowing more about a cancer treatment and its possible side effects can help you make decisions about your work life.

You can talk to your doctor about how treatment may affect or limit your ability to work. If you plan to keep working alongside having treatment, you may be able to arrange for tests or treatment to take place outside of your usual working hours.

With some treatments, you may not know what to expect until you start. Even then, things may change once you begin. By keeping in touch with your employer, you can work together to adjust your plan when you need to.

Before you start treatment, you might want to find out more about your employer's sick leave policy. You can ask your manager, the HR team, or check the employee handbook or intranet if you have it.

Questions to ask your healthcare team

  • How long will each treatment take?
  • Will I need to stay in hospital and, if so, for how long?
  • How do people usually feel during and after this treatment?
  • Will I need time off to recover?
  • How can the side effects be reduced?
  • Will treatment affect any physical demands of my job?
  • Will I be able to concentrate, drive, work shifts or travel?
  • Is there another treatment that works as well but could be better for me at work?
  • Are there any options that could make working easier? For example, could I have my treatment at a hospital closer to my work?

Questions to ask yourself

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself before you make a decision:

  • Are there any risks to working during treatment?
  • Will I need to work less for a period of time?
  • Should I think about working in a different way, to allow time to have treatment and rest?
  • Who can help me at work in practical ways?
  • Who can help me outside of work in practical ways?
  • Will I need extra financial help and where can I get it?


Taking time off

Whether you need to take time off work will depend on:

  • the type of cancer you have
  • they type of treatment you will have, and where your treatment will take place
  • whether you have any side effects
  • what your usual work routine is.

Talking to your healthcare team can help you to understand how treatment might affect your work. Your employer may also agree to changes to your working arrangements if you plan to work alongside having treatment.

If you are off sick for more than a few days, you may need to ask your GP or hospital doctor for a fit note.

If you are worried about how taking time off will impact your financial situation, we have more information about sick pay and benefits.

Feeling worried about side effects

Knowing more about the cancer and its treatments can help you understand the possible effects on your work life. If you are worried about how possible side effects from your cancer treatment may affect your work, talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse.

We have more information about coping with side effects at work.

Your feelings about work

Having cancer and knowing you are about to start treatment may change the way you feel about work. You may feel:
  • angry that you might not be able to work as usual
  • worried about how your colleagues or clients might react
  • guilty, if others may need to take on some of your work
  • worried about money
  • frustrated that you might have to take time off.

All of this is normal. But it can be hard to cope with. With support, you can find ways to adapt and prepare for starting treatment. Knowing how treatment might impact work and that your employer should make reasonable adjustments, can help you feel less worried about the future.

Employment rights

If you have, or have ever had cancer, the law considers you to be disabled. This means you cannot be treated less favourably than other people (who do not have cancer) because you have cancer, or for reasons connected to the cancer. That would be discrimination.

If you have cancer, the law says your employer must make reasonable adjustments to help you. These are changes to your workplace or working arrangements that allow you to remain at or return to work.

We have more information about your rights at work when you have cancer.

If you are self-employed

If you are self-employed, there may be other things you want to consider before you start treatment.

Your rights if you are self-employed

You may have legal protection against discrimination if you are employed under a contract with an employer. If you have your own business or are not under contract, you may not be legally protected from discrimination.

Taking time off

Talking to your healthcare team can help you decide whether you will need to take time off because of cancer treatment. You will not know exactly how you will react to treatment until you start.

It might help to think about whether you need to tell clients or whether you should organise some help with your business before you start treatment. It can help to let people know that your plans may need to change at short notice.

We have more information about making decisions about your business.