The development of effective medical treatment for different types of cancers has resulted in a substantial increase in both the life span and quality of life of people with cancer (Nitkin et al. 2011).  However, cancer patients are still considered 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed than healthy people (deBoer et al., 2015). It is worrying to think that many struggle to return to work, as employment is an important component of quality of life, and thus invaluable.

First of all, work provides a sense of dignity and purpose, and obviously provides income. This enables the individual to be able to support themselves and their family or loved ones, especially since many experience a financial impact and decrease in income, when they have to stop for cancer treatment (Nitkin et al. 2011). 

There is also a lot of evidence that shows that if one is doing good and satisfying work, this improves one’s physical and mental health. On the other hand, unemployment and absence from work due to long-term illness, have a negative effect on the individual (deBoer, 2015).

Furthermore, work is essential for cancer patients and survivors, as it is a sign of recovery and a marker of health. It is a way of returning to some form of normality. For many, regaining normality and structure in everyday life is both the reason to return to work and the meaning of work in itself (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2018).  It can have a positive effect on one’s self-esteem.

It is true that cancer and its treatment may affect one’s mental and physical health, which in turn may affect one’s ability to work. However, it is important to note that in most cases cancer patients are both willing and able to return to work after treatment.

Therefore it is important for the individual to prepare oneself for the transition back to work. One must understand his/her current abilities and reflect on and anticipate what challenges may arise, in order to see what can be done to surpass them or adapt to them. It is important to identify support systems in one’s personal life and those people at work who will help them perform their best, in the safest way possible. It is OK to accept that one is not fully recovered and that it may take some time to fully recover. It is furthermore important to consider services, such as counselling and training, to help in one’s coping skills. Finally, it is vital to monitor one’s progress and address any concerns that may arise at work.

Ann Julene Hili is a Career Guidance Practitioner with Willingness. She specializes in working with teens and young adults who are in their educational and career transitions. She can be contacted on call us on 79291817.  


de Boer, A., Taskila, T., Tamminga, S., Feuerstein, M., Frings-Dresen, M. and Verbeek, J., 2015. Interventions to enhance return-to-work for cancer patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews,.

Nitkin, Patricia, Maureen Parkinson, Izabela Z Schultz. Cancer and work – A Canadian perspective. Canadian Association of Psychological Oncology. 2011.

Rehabilitation and return to work after cancer – instruments and practices. European Risk Observatory Report. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2018. ISSN: 1831-9343.