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Working during cancer treatment

Many people continue to work throughout their cancer treatment. Cancer, or the side effects of treatment, may make it hard to work on some days.

Understanding how treatment may affect you at work can help you and your coworkers know what to expect. Then you can plan ahead so that you can keep working with as little interruption as possible.

How Cancer May Affect You at Work

If you feel well enough, you may find that the daily routine of a job helps you maintain a sense of balance. But having unrealistic goals could cause extra stress. If possible, prepare yourself for the ways cancer could affect you at work.

  • You may need to take time off for treatments.
  • You may get tired more easily.
  • At times, you could be distracted by pain or stress.
  • You could have trouble remembering some things.

Tips to Help You Work During Treatment

There are ways you can plan ahead to make working through cancer easier on you and your co-workers.

  • Schedule treatments late in the day so you can go home afterwards.
  • Try to schedule chemotherapy at the end of the week so you have the weekend to recover.
  • Talk to your manager about working at home some days, if possible. You can spend less time commuting and rest when you need to.
  • Let your boss know your treatment schedule and when you will be out of work.
  • Ask your family and friends to help around the house. This will leave you with more energy for work.

How to Talk to Coworkers About Cancer

Consider letting your co-workers know you have cancer. It might be easier to work if you do not have to make excuses for taking time off. Some co-workers may offer to help out if you have to be out of the office.

  • Consider talking first to one or two people you trust. They might have ideas of how to share the news with your other coworkers.
  • Decide in advance how much information you want to share. The right amount will depend on you and your work culture.
  • Be matter of fact when you share the news. Share the basic facts: that you have cancer, are getting treatment, and plan to keep working.

Some people may have an emotional reaction to the news. Your job is to take care of yourself. You do not have to help every person you know deal with their feelings about cancer.

Some co-workers may say things that are not helpful. They may want to talk about cancer when you want to work. They may ask for details that you do not want to share. Some people might try to give you advice about your treatment. Be ready with responses like:

  • "I would rather not discuss that at work."
  • "I need to focus on this project right now."
  • "That is a private decision I will make with my doctor."

If You Can Not Work

Some people find that working through treatment is too difficult. Taking time off from work might be the best thing you can do for your health and your job. If your work performance is suffering, taking time off will allow your employer to bring in temporary help.

Your right to return to work after treatment is protected under federal law. You cannot be fired for being sick.

Depending on how long you need to be out of work, short-term or long-term disability may cover some of your salary while you are not working. Even if you plan to work through treatment, it is a good idea to find out if your employer has disability insurance. You can get an application for both short and long-term disability in case you need to apply later.

When to Call the Doctor

Talk to your health care provider about how you feel at work, and if you should consider taking time off. If you do, your provider can help you fill out an application for disability coverage.

Alternative Names

Chemotherapy - working; Radiation - working


American Cancer Society website. Working during cancer treatment. Updated May 13, 2019. Accessed October 28, 2022.

Cancer and Careers. For healthcare professionals: A guide to help patients manage work & cancer. 3rd ed. 2018. Accessed October 28, 2022.

National Cancer Institute website. Facing forward: life after cancer treatment. Updated March 2018. Accessed October 28, 2022.

Review Date 8/15/2022

Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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