Macmillan - supporting people with cancer at work

Macmillan at work logo ©Macmillan

Did you know that 750,000 people of working age are living with cancer in the UK? And, every year, another 120,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer.

With survival rates improving and people retiring later, these figures are set to rise. In addition, half a million carers of people with cancer in the UK are working full time or part-time.

Whilst not everyone with cancer is able to, or wants to, work after a cancer diagnosis, research by Macmillan Cancer Support shows that over 80% of people who were working when diagnosed felt it was important to return to work. For people with cancer, staying in or returning to work can be hugely positive.

There is strong evidence that 'good work' may have a positive impact on wellbeing and even aid recovery. For many, work also boosts self-esteem and helps restore normality, routine, stability and social contact – and it may be crucial for financial reasons.

People with cancer often experience physical, emotional or practical problems that can impact on their working life following their diagnosis and during or after treatment. Some people with cancer manage to work during treatment, but most need time off.

With help from employers, many cancer survivors who might otherwise struggle – or perhaps fail – to return to work, can get back to work and remain there, to the benefit of both the individual and the employer.

However, not everyone gets this support. Almost half of people who were in work when they were diagnosed with cancer say their employer didn't discuss sick pay, flexible working, or making workplace adjustments with them.

And nearly 60% of cancer survivors who were in work when they were diagnosed have had to give up work or change their role following their treatment. Often this is not due to a lack of compassion on the employer's part; many managers admit that they are simply not confident about how best to support employees affected by cancer.

The Macmillan Working through Cancer team aims to help both employers and employees to better support people with cancer at work. As well as raising awareness of the protection offered by employment law, we highlight the practical support that should be offered to employees so that those who want to stay in work can be helped to do so.

As a rep, you could be called upon at any time to support a union member affected by cancer, if you haven't done so already. We hope you'll find Macmillan's information on work and cancer helpful.

You can also access Macmillan's free e-learning for union reps, which was developed in partnership with the TUC and unionlearn.

Profile picture for user Caroline Milton

Caroline Milton

Caroline Milton works as a Training Coordinator for the Macmillan Working through Cancer team, assisting with both the Macmillan at Work and Rights at Work initiatives.  

Caroline started her career in HR before taking up a place at the TUC Organising Academy. After graduating, she worked as an organiser and then a negotiating officer for Unite – in their finance section – before taking up a negotiator role at the civil service union, the FDA.