Work and Cancer

After a diagnosis of blood cancer, one of the many things that you may think about is how you will continue to work and how you will provide for yourself and your family.

This can be worrying for any person at any stage of a blood cancer, as the treatment and its side effects, may mean you have to take time off work for appointments or if you generally feel unwell. It is important that you know your rights and are prepared, when faced with this situation.

Talking to your employer

You don’t have to tell anyone about your blood cancer diagnosis, but by talking to your employer, they can take steps to help you throughout your treatment and your return to work. Here we have some advice on how to approach this.

You may find it hard to talk to your employer, especially if you have fears of being treated differently to your colleagues. You may not want to answer any questions people may ask you or you may be scared that you will need to take time off to attend appointments. You may even have fears that you could lose your job.

If you have been diagnosed with a blood cancer, The Equality Act of 2010 automatically protects you against any form of discrimination at different points of work such as the recruitment process, the terms of your work and the opportunities for promotion and training because of your cancer. During your cancer journey, talking to your employer and making them aware of your diagnosis means they can take steps to support you such as letting you take time off work for any appointments, or adapting your working environment to help you carry on working if this is what you decide to do.

Most employers will be sympathetic but it is important to know that they may not know exactly the right way to support you, so you should always try to let them know exactly what you need or they may ask your permission to contact a medical professional to give them guidance.

Working and side effects of treatment

Side effects may affect how you work from day-to-day and your ability to work. With the help of your employer, you can find out how to make your working day easier to help you deal with these side effects.

Whilst undergoing any cancer treatment, there is always the chance that you may experience side effects. These side effects may be mild or slightly more serious so the impact it will have on your job is different for everyone. Some people may choose to carry on working throughout their treatment as they may not experience severe side effects, whereas some people may be badly affected by side effects during treatment and need to give up work completely. It may also depend on how heavily you need to be monitored throughout your treatment.

Your employer can help by making small adjustments to your working environment. For example, if you experience extreme fatigue, small changes made by your employer, such as moving you to a ground floor desk so you don’t have to use the stairs or shortening your working day can make a huge difference.

It’s important to note that during this period of treatment, it is supposed to be a time when you are focussed on getting better, so you should try not to worry too much about work as your are entitled to time off if undergoing cancer treatment.

Blood cancer patients have a chance of becoming neutropenic, making you more vulnerable to infection. Because of this, you may require time off to protect you until your neutrophil level has risen in case you catch any infections from your work colleagues.

Other appearance-related side effects such as hair loss or changes to your skin and nails may make you feel uncomfortable being in a work environment. It is important to remember that these side effects will be temporary in most cases and by speaking to your employer they can make changes to how you work, for example, working from home.


If you are self-employed at the time of your blood cancer diagnosis, financial issues may be particularly worrying to you. But there is support to help you cope with this and to help support you and your family during your recovery.

If you are self-employed and are diagnosed with a blood cancer, this can be especially worrying as you as you may think that if your not working you can’t earn money. However, support is out there if you are self-employed as you may be entitled to benefits that can help you with the cost of living whilst undergoing cancer treatment.

You can find out more information about this on the website or through Macmillan.

Welfare benefits

Living with a blood cancer can increase your living costs and you may struggle to continue work whilst being treated or recovering. But there is help available to you.

If you have to give up work, whether it’s permanently or temporarily, it can have an effect on your income and your finances. This may be because you will have less money coming in and have to pay for various other things you wouldn’t have had to before, such as travelling to and from the hospital. There will always be support available for you if you find you are struggling to financially support yourself and your family during yours or your loved one’s cancer journey.

If you find that you are unable to keep working, it may be possible that you can claim Statutory Sick Pay or Employment and Support Allowance for the period that you are out of work due to your cancer.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) can be claimed from your employer if you are employed, earn at least £111 a week and are cannot work because of ill health or disability. If you have any cancer, legally you are classed as disabled (even if you don’t feel like you are). SSP is paid at a fixed rate of £87.55 a week. There is a standard rate for this and it is paid for a maximum of 28 weeks. If you have contractual sick pay in your work contract then you may be entitled to this as well as receiving SSP.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is for people who cannot work due to illness or disability and are unable to receive Statutory Sick Pay. To claim ESA you will usually have to undergo various tests to confirm that you have limited capability for work.

You can find more information about work and cancer by visiting Macmillan Cancer Support at