Language / La langue: 
You are here:   Cancer and Work



Advances in medical treatment for many of the over 200 types of cancer have dramatically increased both the life span and quality of life of people with cancer.1 According to a 2015 estimate by the Canadian Cancer Society, 196,900 new cases of cancer would occur in Canada and 63% of Canadians diagnosed would survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. For more about Canadian cancer statistics, visit the Canadian Cancer Society’s Canadian Cancer Statistics.

Many cancer survivors are able to remain at work or return after treatment. Research shows that the average rate of return is 62%.2 The rate of return after 4 years is 85% with most survivors returning in the first year.3 The experience of cancer and how it affects work can be very individual, influenced by the type of cancer, extent of cancer, treatment, the employee’s overall physical, cognitive and emotional health, social support and resources available to them. Therefore, some survivors may struggle with returning or staying at work or finding new jobs while others may have no problem. Some positive workplace features that have been helpful to cancer survivors’ return to work and employment are supportive work environments, work accommodations and good relationships with employers.4 5 2 When employers make accommodations and offer supportive working environments, survivors are more likely to lead productive working lives.

Seven key principles to support return to work

Research from the Institute for Work & Health shows that organizations where employees successfully return to work share these 7 key principles:

  1. The workplace has a strong commitment to health and safety which is demonstrated by the behaviours of everyone in the workplace.
  2. The employer offers modified work to ill employees so they can return as early as is feasible to work that is suitable to their temporary abilities.
  3. Return to work planners ensure that the return to work plan supports the returning employee without putting co-workers and supervisors at a disadvantage.
  4. Supervisors are trained and included in return to work planning.
  5. The employer makes early and considerate contact with ill employees.
  6. Someone has the responsibility to coordinate return to work.
  7. Employers and healthcare providers exchange information with each other as needed.

Business case

Keeping an employee with cancer or hiring someone with a history of cancer makes good business sense for employers for a number of reasons:

  • The costs of replacing an employee are high, and the costs of accommodating an employee with a disability (such as those caused by cancer and treatment) are surprisingly low. In fact, statistics show that most employees with disabilities, once accommodated, are as good as or better at their jobs than other employees. Plus, they are more likely to stay with their organization longer than other employees.
  • By retaining an employee with cancer, the employer retains their skills and knowledge specific to the company.
  • Hiring and retaining people with cancer gives employers access to a potentially overlooked and under-utilized pool of talented people if other companies are not hiring them based on their cancer and/or disability.
  • Having people with cancer and/or disabilities on staff enhances the corporate brand, making it more attractive to job applicants and customers.
  • Accommodating employees with cancer and/or disabilities helps avoid paying penalties for not doing so.
  • Supporting an employee with a history of cancer shows other employees that the employer is supportive, increasing the likelihood of loyalty to the organization.

Resources for more information