Return to work following cancer - advice for employees

This section provides employees with access to guidance, information and web links.

Returning to work can be difficult. You may experience physical problems which are related to the type of cancer you had and the treatments you have received or are receiving. This includes issues such as lymphoedema, fatigue, a need to access toilet facilities more frequently, bone or joint pain, thermal intolerance and an increased risk of infection. Furthermore, different cancers and treatment may also affect your physical ability to work. For example, a third of men with prostate cancer reported difficulty with stooping and lifting; for breast cancer, difficulties were found with stooping, physical effort and heavy lifting. You may also encounter some memory problems and find it difficult to concentrate.

Having been out of the workplace for some time you may also find you have lost confidence. You are protected under the Equality Act 2010 and employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to your working environment. The following sections point you towards help. In particular, Macmillan Cancer Support provides information and support about work and cancer for people who have cancer.

Leaflets and information

Macmillan Cancer Support offers a number of useful documents including:

  • the essential questions to ask about work and return to work - this also has a section on questions to ask, should you not return to work
  • a guide to reasonable adjustments and changes in the workplace
  • your rights at work
  • the HSE also has information which will help you if you are off sick and worried about your job

General information

The Macmillan Cancer Support website is a good source of information and support on work and cancer and the impact cancer may have on work and returning to work.

They also provide information about your rights at work and what might be reasonable adjustments for your employer to make which might help you return to work.

In addition to offering general support to those with cancer, Maggie’s Centres also offer support and advice about returning to work after cancer. Together with UNUM they have produced resources to help you with returning to work.

You may also have to cope with other side-effects and symptoms and these can be long-term. Macmillan Cancer Support provides useful information on managing fatigue, pain, breathlessness, lymphoedema and other problems.

There may be the impact of other health problems as a result of your treatment, including changes to vision, fatigue, impact on concentration or the need to eat more frequently or use toilet facilities more frequently. Further information is available at Cancer Research UK.

Some side effects such as lymphoedema can be extremely debilitating and can affect work tasks e.g. heavy lifting and repetitive movements. The Lymphoedema Support Network provides lots of information and support.

One-to-one advice and support for employees is also available through working with cancer.

The content for this toolkit was produced as part of the IOSH-funded research undertaken by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Loughborough University and Affinity Health at work.