Supporting cancer patients with work

Every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer.[1]

An estimated one in three people with cancer in the UK are of working age.[2]While not all of these will be in employment, Macmillan research has found that 87% of those in work when diagnosed with cancer say it’s important to them to continue working after diagnosis.[3]

The effect of cancer and its treatment on a person’s ability to work can vary widely. Factors can include the type and stage of cancer, the treatment and its side effects, and how the person copes with a life-altering event like a cancer diagnosis. While some people with cancer continue to work during their treatment, others may need time off or support to help them return to work, while others may need to leave the workplace completely.

The role of GPs

GPs can play an important role in supporting patients with work following a cancer diagnosis. The conversations they have with their patients – whether it’s while completing Fit Notes, during a Cancer Care Review or at another point in the patient’s cancer ‘journey’ – can empower them to discuss their needs with their employer. While GPs don’t need specialist knowledge of workplaces or occupational health, they can help their patients by supporting them to understand the potential impact of their cancer on their work life.

Resources for healthcare professionals and patients

Since the launch of the Council’s Talking Work: A guide for Doctors discussing work and work modifications with patientsearlier this year, Macmillan has developed some additional resources to support healthcare professionals to have conversations specifically about work and cancer. Our Work support route guides– separate versions of which are available for professionals based in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and our Supporting patients with work: 10 top tips guidehelp professionals to feel confident about discussing work with patients and signposting them onto further sources of support.

Macmillan has also created a dedicated team of work support advisers who can help people with cancer and those who care for them to understand their rights at work. The team provides information and guidance on talking to employers and negotiating adjustments and can answer questions on sick pay or taking time off. People with more complex needs can also be referred to one-off legal advice. The team is available Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm on 0808 808 0000. In addition, a wide range of information about work and cancer can be found by visiting

How to build conversations around work and cancer into practice

Along with Fit Note conversations, the Cancer Care Review provides an excellent opportunity to discuss work with patients. Macmillan has worked with each of the main GP IT providers to develop integrated, standardised cancer care review templates within EMIS Health, INPS vision and TPP SystmOne. These templates take a holistic approach to the discussion, covering conversations about employment, financial support and the clinical needs of the person living with cancer.

GPs can use these templates to guide them through conversations with people living with cancer. The templates are also a helpful way to ensure that appropriate information is coded back onto the patient file, as well as supporting signposting to further support, with embedded Macmillan information available to print.

Rebecca Coaker, Services Influencing Manager – Work and Cancer, Macmillan Cancer Support

We’re here to help people with cancer live life as fully as they can, providing physical, financial and emotional support. So whatever cancer throws their way, we’re right there with them.


[1]Estimated by calculating UK-wide incidence of about 360,000 new cases of cancer per year divided by the total number of minutes in a year.

[2]Estimated total prevalence of people in the UK aged 16 to 65. It is estimated based on UK complete prevalence of those aged 0 to 64 in 2015 derived from Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. Br J Cancer 2012; 107: 1195-1202. (Projections scenario 1). This was adjusted up to those aged 16 to 65 based on 21-year cancer prevalence in England (Transforming Cancer Services Team for London, NHS, National Cancer Registry and Analysis Service, PHE and Macmillan Cancer Support. 2017. Cancer Prevalence in England: 21-year prevalence by demographic and geographic measures. The proportion is based on UK complete prevalence in 2015 derived from Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. Br J Cancer 2012; 107: 1195-1202. (Projections scenario 1).

[3]YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1507 PLWC respondents who were in work when diagnosed with cancer. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29/06/2018 – 22/07/2018. The survey was carried out online.