Dealing with cancer … with workplace support

World Cancer Day is held on 4 February every year and this year is the final stage of the event’s current three-year “Close the Care Gap” campaign to raise awareness and improve cancer diagnosis and treatment for nations and communities around the globe, including people at work. Jon Herbert reports.

Established on 4 February 2000, the World Cancer Day aims to promote research, prevent cancer, improve patient services, raise awareness and mobilise the global community to make progress in cancer care. Titled “Close the Care Gap”, the current three-year (2022–2024) campaign for World Cancer Day is about addressing the barriers that prevent people around the world from accessing the cancer care they need.

This year sees the end of this international campaign based on the message “Create a future without cancer — the time to act is now”. The organisers, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), want governments around the world to promote health equity, enhance cancer service accessibility and reduce disparities in cancer incidence and mortality, to finally “close the care gap”.

They also hope that the 2024 message of “Uniting our voices and taking action” will create an opportunity for many to celebrate their own, or someone else’s recovery, from cancer. However, they acknowledge that the day can also be a complicated and emotional one.

People and organisations not sure how to support someone on World Cancer Day can refer to this information.

2022–2024: Close the Care Gap campaign

Below is a summary of the ongoing three-year World Cancer Day awareness campaign.

2024: Together, we challenge those in power — This final year will concentrate on engaging world, national and local leaders and demanding a commitment for prioritising cancer to “shake the very foundations of injustice” that it says many communities and groups suffer.

2023: Uniting our voices and taking action — The second year of the campaign focussed on bringing together the power of like-minded people. Real-world progress included building stronger alliances and innovative new collaborations — such as motivating neighbours to provide cancer treatment transport, and ensuring healthy and affordable food options are offered at local schools.

2022: Realising the problem — The first year of the “Close the Care Gap” campaign involved understanding inequities in cancer care around the globe with an open mind that challenges assumptions and looks at hard facts.

It added that people seeking cancer care can be hit by barriers at every turn — from income to education, location and discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability and lifestyle. However, these are not set in stone and can be changed.

Another priority has been helping to reduce the stigma of cancer, listening to perspectives of people living with cancer and letting their experiences guide thoughts and actions.

Cancer support

Macmillan Cancer Support is one of the largest UK charities and a leading cancer support organisation for the three million people in Britain currently living with cancer. It is also a major World Cancer Day supporter. Its initiative, Macmillan at Work, provides information, training and resources to help employers support their staff affected by cancer, as well as advice for employees.

The service is free and includes an Essential Work and Cancer Toolkit and access to Macmillan’s expert training.

According to Macmillan, 393,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer each year. On an average, a diagnosis is made at least every 90 seconds. Cancer incidences in the UK have risen by 19% in the last decade and 40% since 2002.

HSE says occupational cancer can be caused by significant exposure to carcinogens in the workplace, often over a prolonged period. Carcinogens can be solid substances, liquids, mixtures, vapours, gases, dusts or even radiation.

Helping employers support people affected by cancer

Businesses need to have proper procedures in place to minimise cancer risks. However, they can also do much to support employees with cancer and others affected in their lives and the workplace. See Beating cancer… globally and in the workplace.

Work is important for many people with, or caring for someone with, cancer for numerous reasons. It can create a sense of normality and help with recovery. Managers and employers play a key supporting role.

A person who has, or has had, cancer is protected by law from unfair treatment at work for the rest of their life. Under equality laws, companies must try to support employees, including making reasonable adjustments to help them stay in, or return to, work when ready and able.

When making reasonable workplace or working pattern adjustments, the employee needs to be involved. Simple first steps could be to: talk and understand the employee’s needs, provide training for managers, check policies are up to date, educate all employees and raise cancer awareness.

Supporting employees affected by cancer can be difficult for small enterprises with concerns about impacts on their company teams and day-to-day activities. Information about legal responsibilities and supporting employees through cancer or a bereavement is available on the Macmillan Cancer Support website.

  • Talking about cancer with employees — HR advice is given in a podcast which includes examples of how people told colleagues about their diagnosis.
  • More information about cancer — Also as a podcast, a doctor explains how cancer develops, can be treated, and what might happen.
  • Cancer impacts on business — This presentation considers how small companies should deal with the financial implications of an employee with a cancer diagnosis.
  • Legal responsibilities — Two employers explain temporary changes they made to their employees’ work duties to help them remain in work during treatment for cancer.
  • Help with bereavement — Two managers describe how they handled the death of colleagues, the impact on their teams, plus advice from a bereavement counsellor.
  • Support for carers — Here Macmillan provides real examples of how people were supported by their employers while looking after someone with cancer.
  • Money and work — Financial worries about money are very common for people affected by cancer and Macmillan provides help.

Further information and resources

The leaflet 10 Top Tips for Line Managers offers top tips for managers to help them support staff who are affected by cancer.

Your Navigate Safety service includes a Working with Chronic Health Conditions Policy to download as well as in depth information relating to occupational exposure in the Carcinogens topic.

Commonly asked questions

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Work and Cancer webpage answers commonly asked questions about work and cancer, including help with money and finances.

To help both employers and employees, it looks specifically at the following questions.

  • How will cancer affect my work life?
  • How will cancer affect me if I’m self-employed?
  • How do I make decisions about work if I have cancer?
  • Will I need to take time off work?
  • What are my rights at work?
  • Am I entitled to sick pay if I have cancer?
  • What benefits am I entitled to?
  • What are the other forms of financial support?
  • What kind of support can I have from my employer?
  • How will cancer affect my feelings about work?

Coping with side effects at work

This is of concern to everyone affected and how you can get help is detailed here.

Specifically, this page looks at fatigue, risk of infection, bruising and bleeding, numbness or tingling of the hands and feet, changes in appearance, difficulty writing, plus other side effects or symptoms.

People with cancer-related fatigue tire more quickly and may find it very hard to do their usual tasks, concentrate or make decisions, and may feel more emotional and less patient than usual.

Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can reduce white blood cells count in the body. White blood cells fight infection. With fewer of these cells, there is a higher likelihood of infection which may prevent an employee from being able to work. Also, it is important for them to avoid other people with symptoms of illnesses that may be infectious, such as a sore throat, cold, flu, diarrhoea, vomiting and other kinds of infection, like chickenpox.

Reasonable adjustments

People in paid employment who have, or have had, cancer are entitled to ask their employers to consider making reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act.

Employers must make such adjustments when the workplace or work practices put employees with cancer at a “substantial disadvantage” compared with colleagues who do not have cancer. The disadvantage has to be “more than minor or trivial”.

Employees are not obliged to tell employers that they have cancer. But employers do not have to make reasonable adjustments unless they know, or should reasonably know, that employees have cancer, for example, because of different behaviour. It is reasonable for employers to check whether this is connected to a disability. They can then ask how they may provide support.

Examples of adjustments are more flexible working arrangements, scheduling time around the days an employee is most needed at work, agreeing which tasks are most important, what can be managed and what other staff might do to help, changing duties, or making any changes to an employee’s role the employee thinks would help.

Other options include working from home when possible, having someone else assess which phone calls need to be taken and which emails are forwarded, telling colleagues how workloads will be managed and contact arrangements.

Eating well and keeping active are also important, as is relieving emotional stress.

Contact points

Direct information via mobiles and landlines is available free of charge from 8am to 8pm by calling 0808 808 00 00. The Macmillan Support Line can also be accessed. The Macmillan Chat Service offers confidential support to people living with cancer and those supporting them.

Macmillan also runs an Online Community. This online forum with a safe environment is available 24 hours a day and has more than 80,000 members who have been directly affected by cancer.

In Your Area is an online directory of cancer support services, self-help and support groups and fundraising events across the UK.


Since 2000, World Cancer Day on 4 February has been a focus point for improving worldwide cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, while also reducing fear, dispelling misleading myths and altering unhelpful behaviour and attitudes.

This year is the last of a three-year campaign around the message “Create a future without cancer — the time to act is now” that wants governments to promote health equity, enhance cancer service accessibility, reduce disparities in cancer incidence and mortality, to finally “close the care gap”.

Information on how to support World Cancer Day can be seen here.

Macmillan Cancer Support provides information, training and resources to help employers support their help staff affected by cancer, plus advice for employees.

There is a lot of information to go through. If you require further advice, contact us so we can point you in the right direction.


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