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Ovarian cancer, work and education

Find out about your rights when deciding whether to continue work or education during and after treatment.

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Whether you continue in work or education during treatment for ovarian cancer, or if you decide to take some time off, is a very personal decision. You don’t have to tell your employer or teacher/tutor that you’re being treated for ovarian cancer. But 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.  

Your rights

It's important to know your rights if you've been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and you're employed or receiving an education in the UK.

Your rights

Everyone living with or beyond cancer is protected against unfair treatment in the workplace, both now and in the future. This is under the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland. It doesn’t matter if you have symptoms or side effects of treatment or not and the law still applies when you’ve finished treatment. 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. 

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 represent your needs to the relevant members of staff. 

Working With Cancer helps employees, employers, the self-employed, job seekers and carers to manage cancer and work. 

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 doesn’t 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 important thing is that your employer makes considerate changes to your work role where needed, and that you feel supported and respected by them.

What if my employer is making unreasonable demands?

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.
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What are reasonable adjustments?

Macmillan's guide has more information on what reasonable adjustments are and what support is available.

Common questions

Below are common questions you may have about work or education and ovarian cancer.

Should I stay in work during treatment?

Whether or not you work during your treatment is a personal decision. It’s likely you’ll need to take some time off to recover after surgery. You may or may not feel able to work through chemotherapy, depending on any side effects and their impact on you.

If you do choose to work, you don’t have to tell your employer that you’re being treated for ovarian cancer. But 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. 

Find out more about the financial help available to you, whether you decide to work or not.

Should I stay in touch with work?

If you decide not to work during 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’re trying to recover. Do what feels right for you.

It’s important that your employer is flexible as your needs will change from initial treatment to returning to work. 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, it’s important to be open with your employer so that they can adjust things to help.

Should I return to work?

If you've taken time off while receiving treatment you can create a return-to-work plan with your employer to ease yourself back in. This might simply be a matter of slowly building up to your normal hours or perhaps working from home. 

It’s understandable to feel nervous about returning to work. You may feel you don’t want to be fussed over and want to just get back to work. It may help to call into work ahead of your return or to speak to a colleague about how you want to be treated. 

Macmillan has more information about returning to work after treatment for cancer.  

What if I'm currently attending school, college or university?

If you’re currently in education, you’re also protected by the under the Equality Act 2010 (in England, Scotland and Wales) or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (in Northern Ireland). Your teacher or tutor should work with you to make reasonable adjustments. This may be things like giving you extra time in exams or it may be applying for extenuating circumstances. This is when your school, college or university can put extra measures in place to support you (such as extending deadlines for projects or taking your situation into account when marking your work).

The Teenage Cancer Trust has more information about returning to education after cancer treatment.

What if I'm self-employed?

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're aware of any rights or support available to you.

The same practical issues as working for an organisation may apply to how much work you feel able to do. You won't have the security of employer sick pay schemes, but you may have private sickness insurance. You may want to think about scaling back your business while you're unable to spend as much time on it as you normally would. Focus on the essentials instead. If you work alongside other people, you could discuss whether there is an option for others to take on the most important elements of your workload.   

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Are you self-employed?

Get more information and support if you're self employed.

More support and information

A photo of Target Ovarian Cancer's specialist support line nurses, Val, Rachel and Luisa

Our support line is open Monday-Friday, 9am–5pm

Last review: June 2023

Next review: June 2026

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Below are a sample of references used for this article. You can request the full list by emailing [email protected]: