Changing the conversation about work and cancer

Returning to work after cancer – what’s so important?

Returning to work after cancer benefits the wider community
Returning to work after cancer benefits the wider community

There are at present over 2 million people in the UK living with cancer and Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that by 2030 there will be 4 million.

But the story of cancer is in many ways changing for the better. It is increasingly becoming an illness which is either successfully cured with no signs of illness, or treated to allow a person to live with the active disease for many years. There may be a number of long-term side effects to cope with such as fatigue, pain, reduced mobility and loss of confidence, and these may affect an individual’s ability to work, but this doesn’t mean they have to give up work.

Indeed, for many of those who have cancer, work is important for a number of reasons.  Of course there are the financial benefits of maintaining an income but crucially for some, it provides a sense of purpose in life and offers an important lifeline back to normality and wellbeing.  Most importantly, the evidence increasingly shows that returning to work actually aids recovery.

Over 70% of organisations that make workplace adjustments to support people with disabilities such as cancer find them easy to implement. Many adjustments, such as offering flexible working hours or permitting an employee to work from home, usually cost next to nothing. However, almost half of those who are working when diagnosed with cancer have to make changes to their working lives, with around 4 in 10 of those changing jobs or leaving work altogether.

New and improved treatments are helping more people live with cancer as a long-term, chronic condition. And like many other long-term conditions, cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act. By law, employers must consider requests such as flexible working hours or physical adjustments to the workplace from someone who has cancer.

But there are more than just legal reasons to support people with cancer at work. Helping cancer survivors return to work benefits not only the individual as described above, and their company, which retains an employee on whom they’ve spent time and money hiring and training, it also adds to the longer term economic and social health of the wider community.