Cancer & Work
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1. Understand current work abilities

Step 1 of 11 in getting ready to return to work:

Whenever someone is diagnosed with cancer, the healthcare team should ask about the patient’s work situation and consider all of the factors that may impact their employment. These include:

  • individual, medical, cognitive and psychological factors
  • type of cancer and its treatment
  • relationships with supervisors and co-workers
  • responsibility for family tasks and relationships with family members
  • workplace policies on return to work, etc.
  • workplace demands and environment
  • financial supports (e.g., sick leave, disability leave, extended healthcare benefits)

Patients need to know how their cancer and its treatment will affect their work abilities, so that they can decide whether to stay at work, apply for disability or sick leave (if these are available to them), or stop working. Physicians can advise patients how their employment may be affected.

In addition to the factors outlined above, a post-cancer–diagnosis healthcare assessment should consider the:

  • demands of a patient’s job
  • patient’s desire to stay at work, or not
  • emotional and task-related supports available in the workplace
  • willingness of the employer to accommodate cancer-related disabilities

Commonly, employers and disability insurance providers ask physicians to provide opinions on whether a patient can presently work, when or if a patient can return to work, what their restrictions will be, and what accommodations they will need. For ideas on how to talk to insurance providers and employers, see Returning to work is communication and teamwork.

Oncologists are also often called on by employers and disability insurers to give their opinion on a patient’s current work abilities, because of their clinical experience with specific treatments. This is especially the case when treatments have changed and there is no research yet to inform how it may impact on functions in relation to work.

Patients may need to leave work, reduce their hours, or change occupations during or after cancer treatment. For factors to consider in your assessment of work ability see Vocational Rehabilitation for Cancer Patients: Part Two by Maureen Parkinson, Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor, BC Cancer Agency.

Next step:

Step 2: Assess functioning

Back to the list of return to work preparation steps