Practical advice for women with a new diagnosis

Find out your options when it comes to work, your rights, what to do if you're self-employed and what other financial support is available for you.

Being diagnosed with ovarian cancer can have a big impact on your finances and you may be concerned about work. Here we look at how you can make the best practical decisions based on your individual needs.


Working through cancer treatment or returning to work after treatment is a very personal decision. You might have to return to work for financial reasons. Working may also mark a return to normal life and may bring a sense of control at an otherwise uncertain time. You might feel you need to focus your energy on treatment and recovery. There’s no right or wrong answers, so you must do what’s right for you.

Working through cancer treatment or returning to work

You’re going to need to take some time off work for surgery and for chemotherapy. You don’t have to tell your employer that you are being treated for ovarian cancer. If you’re going to lots of appointments and it’s having an impact on your energy, telling them could make it easier for them to understand your situation and support you. 

Ask your Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) or oncologist about how your treatment might affect your working life. You can ask questions like:

  • How often will I need to have treatment?
  • How long will each treatment take?
  • How might this affect my ability to work?

It can be useful to add some extra recovery time into your work plan as it’s difficult to know in advance how treatment might affect your ability to work. You can always build up your working hours or workload if you’re feeling well. 

Watch our video for Julie's top tip for returning to work:

Staying in touch

If you decide not to work through your cancer treatment, you can still keep in touch with your colleagues if you’d like to. Why not ask for regular updates on relevant work or projects? You could even ask if there are small projects that you could work on from home. You may also decide that you prefer not to hear from work when you are trying to recover. Do what feels right for you.

It’s important that your employer is flexible in their approach as your needs will change from initial treatment to returning to work and managing possible side effects. Your experience will also have an emotional impact and you may find yourself reacting to things differently or feeling less sociable. If you feel that this is happening and affecting your work, try to be open with your employer so that they can adjust things to help.

Who to talk to

Many people prefer to discuss issues with someone independent from their actual team or management. If your workplace has an Occupational Health or Human Resources department then these are the ideal people to discuss your situation with. They can then represent your needs to the relevant members of staff.

Your rights

Everyone living with or beyond cancer is protected under the Equality Act 2010 (in England, Scotland and Wales) or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (in Northern Ireland) against unfair treatment in the workplace, both now and in the future.

It doesn’t matter if you have symptoms/side effects or not and the law still applies when you have finished treatment and have been discharged from hospital. It also protects you from discrimination by future employers. Your employer is required by law to make reasonable adjustments to help you work through your treatment or return to work after treatment, as long as they know (or should reasonably know) that you have or have had cancer. This might include changing some of your duties, agreeing different working hours, and allowing time off for appointments. 

What are reasonable adjustments?

There's a long list of possibilities but the more common ones include:

  • adjusting the premises to make them safer and more accessible
  • allowing time off for appointments and recovery
  • allocating some of your duties to a colleague or employing a support worker
  • adjusting redundancy criteria so that it does not discriminate
  • altering work hours and/or allowing you to work from home.

What is or isn't reasonable will depend on the nature of your work. The essential thing is that your employer makes considerate alterations to your work role where needed, and that you feel supported and respected by them throughout a difficult time.

Read Macmillan’s guide ‘Reasonable adjustments: making changes in the workplace' [PDF].

If you're self-employed or work for a small organisation

If you’re self-employed or work for a small business or organisation, it may be up to you to handle the communications and set up a return that’s realistic for you. Approaching organisations such as Citizens Advice can help ensure that you are aware of any rights or support available to you.

What if there's a problem?

If you feel your employer or colleague is making unreasonable demands you can get advice from a number of organisations:

  • Citizens Advice 
  • Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) 
  • If you’re member of a trade union, you can speak to your local representative
  • If your employer runs an employee assistance programme you can use this service to speak with a trained professional about a range of issues including health and legal matters. 

Financial help

There are different types of benefit entitlements available to you depending on the impact your cancer has had and your financial circumstances. These include benefits that replace your earnings, help with housing costs or extra costs resulting from your illness. 

Many people are unaware of the financial help and support that’s available to them during this time. This means that large sums of money go unclaimed each year. 

For financial information and advice:

Find out more

  • For detailed guidance on work issues see Macmillan Cancer Support.
  • St Bernard Support also offers confidential guidance and lots more information about financial wellbeing, including pensions, insurance and welfare benefits.


Life and illness insurance

Having cancer should not affect any existing life or critical illness insurance, but you may find it more difficult to obtain new insurance once you have been diagnosed with cancer. Insurance companies may quote you a very high premium so it can help to talk to an insurance broker who can advise you on more specialist policies.

For further advice about cancer insurance plans, you can speak to Macmillan Cancer Support's financial guides team by calling 0808 808 00 00

Travel insurance

Routine travel insurance policies may exclude any risks associated with your cancer or exclude you because you have cancer. However, there are more specialist policies available. It's important to check that your insurance policy covers claims related to pre-existing conditions such as cancer. 

Global Health Insurance Card

On 31 December 2020, the UK left the European Union (EU). If you're travelling to a country in the EU you can now apply for a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). This is available via the NHS and allows you to receive medical cover on the same basis as a citizen of the country that you're visiting. With this card you can access healthcare that is medically necessary (it can’t wait until you come back to the UK). Whether treatment is necessary is decided by the healthcare provider in the country you're visiting.

If you still have a valid UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) you can continue to use this when travelling to EU countries until the expiry date on the card. Once this has expired you’ll need to apply for a new GHIC card. You can apply for this up to six months before your EHIC expires. To see if you should apply for a UK issued EHIC find out more on the NHS website.

These cards don’t cover treatment planned in advance but if you do need continued treatment for an ongoing illness while you're abroad (like regular injections) they do cover this.

Cancer Research UK has more information about EHIC and GHIC.

Free prescriptions

If you live in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland then prescriptions are free. If you have a diagnosis of ovarian cancer and live in England you can apply for free prescriptions. This is called an exemption certificate. 

Cancer Research UK has more information about applying for free prescriptions

Last reviewed: January 2021
Next review: January 2024