Cancer and work

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

cancer and workReceiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event. In addition to dealing with the diagnosis, prognosis and prospect of on-going treatment, people can often find it very hard to talk to others about their condition, not least because other people may feel awkward or uncomfortable talking about such a sensitive issue perhaps because they aren’t sure of the ‘right’ thing to say or are scared of saying the ‘wrong’ thing.

According to Cancer Research UK, 1 in 2 people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime and the likelihood is that most people will know people who are suffering from cancer. Cancer can occur at any age although the risk of developing cancer increases with age. The most common cancers for men and women in 2013 according to Cancer Research UK were:

Men Women
Prostate cancer Breast cancer
Lung cancer Lung cancer
Bowel cancer Bowel cancer
Bladder cancer Uterus (womb) cancer

Importantly for employers, cancer is automatically classed as a disability under the remit of the Equality Act 2010. An employee does not have to advise their employer of a diagnosis of cancer, but if this information is shared, it is important to ensure that an employee’s needs are assessed.

The impact of a diagnosis of cancer on a person’s ability to work will vary widely. Whilst participation in (and recovery from) treatments may mean a certain amount of time off work, not all cancer sufferers take long-term sickness absence. However, because no two cancer diagnoses are the same, employers need to remain flexible when working with employees to decide on issues such as:

  • what they are and are not capable of doing;
  • how their treatment is likely to affect their ability to work (how long they may need to be off work, etc.);
  • whether time off is needed to attend appointments or treatment;
  • what adjustments should be made to their work in order to allow them to continue working (in so far as this is possible);
  • whether they need to be restricted from specific working environments (e.g. exposure to infection sources during chemotherapy);
  • discussion of any external support services that could be of help;
  • what on-going support employees feel they may need.

Employees who have been off work due to illness for four weeks or more are eligible for a free occupational health assessment from Fit for Work to help facilitate a return to work (where this is deemed to be appropriate).

If you have been diagnosed with cancer and want to find out more about continuing to work, or if you are an employer managing an employee who has cancer, you can call the free Fit for Work Advice Line (0800 032 6235) for guidance. Or for guidance on work-related health topics, view the resources on the website.

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