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The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

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Guide to Employment

About 40 percent of cancer patients are in the workplace, and many prefer to continue working during cancer treatment. Some may not have a lot of vacation or sick time and don’t want to jeopardize their job. Many want to keep busy, maintain their income and health insurance coverage, and keep life as normal as possible during cancer treatment.

Cancer treatments and their side effects are highly individual, and the amount of time that you may need to attend to treatments, and their side effects, is variable. It is up to you to decide whether or not to disclose your diagnosis to your supervisor at work. However, by doing so, you can enlist the support of your supervisor in minimizing job interruptions. You will also be aiding your supervisor in planning for your absences and in developing a backup plan should you need to be out for a period of time. These recommendations may help you manage your work life during treatment: 

  • Tell your doctor about your job, and ask how medication and treatment may affect your ability to work.
  • Try to schedule treatments so they don’t disrupt your work schedule. Arrange daily radiation treatments for the beginning or end of the day to maximize your work day. Chemotherapy appointments can be scheduled on a Thursday or Friday so if you don’t feel well during the next couple of days you are more likely to be able to rest at home.
  • Communicate clearly with your supervisor and co-workers about your scheduled appointments and how you will be able to work around them. Ask for help if you need it.
  • If you will be out for an extended period of time, like for surgery, ask your doctor what to expect and then share that information with your employer. Your employer may be able to bring in temporary help or rearrange assignments during your absence.

Johns Hopkins is developing a program called Cancer and the Workplace to help educate employers, working cancer patients and caregivers about maximizing work productivity during this time period and how employees and cancer survivors can stay healthy. Resources in development include a patient navigator service to educate caregivers and working cancer patients about types of cancer and their current treatments, and a program with employer wellness centers to ensure cancer survivors receive follow-up screenings and healthy lifestyle education. This page will be updated as more information becomes available.

For more information about navigating this area, see the Cancer and Careers Web site