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Cancer and employment

When you are diagnosed with cancer, the first thing that may come to mind is that there will be a long period off work. But as with many other illnesses, cancer does not necessarily result in work incapacity or being off work for a long period.

Most cancer patients return to work following treatment or even during treatment. Different sorts of cancer affect your work capacity in different ways and the possibilities of returning to work after being ill.

Cancers are treated in many different ways and not all forms of treatment impede your ability to work. Treatment is usually done in such a way that the patient goes for treatment during the daytime and returns home for the night. Many forms of cancer treatment have side effects, the majority of which soon pass. But cancer treatment can also cause pain and fatigue during the period of treatment and even long after treatment has finished.

Some patients are able to work while having treatment. It is a personal decision whether you go to work or not during treatment. For some patients it boosts their life management capability. But many people need to take sick leave during treatment or to be at work on a part-time basis.

You need to allow time for recovery. Working must not be a means by which patients try to push on with living a normal life even though the illness makes it impossible.

How should you tell them at work that you have cancer?

You do not have to tell anyone at work that you have cancer, but it is often the case that talking about it helps you cope with the new situation. You should decide whom you would tell about your illness and to what extent.

There is no obligation to inform your superior of the reasons for taking sick leave, as health care is subject to confidentiality. However, in terms of occupational health, it is important that your superior knows about factors and illnesses that limit employees’ work capacity should they be at work while receiving treatment.

In the initial stage it may be hard to talk about having cancer. When the illness gradually becomes part of your life it gets easier to talk about it. You can influence the way people react to the situation. You can speak openly about having cancer, be very matter of fact and unemotional. That way whoever you are talking to is able to behave in the same way.

When news of your illness gets around at work, it can be awkward to find yourself the centre of attention. On the other hand, you shouldn’t worry as the majority of people respond compassionately.

You can ask colleagues to help out practically or your superior about flexibility with respect to various tasks. When there is a good working environment, colleagues behave just as they have done before and do not let illness define a person’s worth as an individual. Support from colleagues can greatly help you cope during the treatment period and makes it easier to return to working life.

How to make going back to work succeed?

A long absence from work may require support, flexibility and rehabilitation. The best results come from cooperation between the employer, employee and occupational health service.

When you are on sick leave you should keep in touch with your workplace and discuss your situation with your superior. This makes it easier to return to work and anticipate what may be needed, such as flexibility in working hours or tasks.

When planning to return to work, it is a good idea to start with the occupational health service together with your employer and superior. Many work places have special plans and guidelines to help employees return to work.

During prolonged sick leave you should send the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) a written medical opinion concerning your working incapacity and the scope for remaining in work, when you have received 90 days sickness benefit over a two-year period. The medical opinion can be obtained from an occupational health physician. Kela requests written opinions from every sickness benefit recipient with the exception of people who are self-employed, students, the unemployed, people who manage their own finances or employees under foreign secondment.

Further information about prolonged working incapacity can be found on the Kela website(opens in a new window).

If you need rehabilitation to be able to return to work, you should get in touch with your doctor or with an occupational health physician. You need a doctor’s referral or rehabilitation plan to apply for rehabilitation services.

The Cancer Society of Finland provides rehabilitation services for cancer patients, for example reintegration courses. Their aim is to help you cope with the changes to life caused by cancer and how to live as good a life as possible despite having the disease.

Rehabilitation courses

Can your work contract terminate because you have cancer?

Employees can resign from their jobs according to the terms of their employment contracts. However, employers cannot fire employees one the basis of illness, unless the employees’ working capacity has decreased substantially due to illness and on such a long-term basis that the employer cannot be reasonably be required to continue to employ the person concerned.

If it appears necessary to alter an employee’s job description fundamentally, the issue may involve rehabilitation and retraining. If this approach is not feasible, the employee can look for work comprising tasks that he/she can manage, or apply for a disability pension.




Kelan verkkosivusto

Suomen Syöpäpotilaat ry. Nuoren syöpäpotilaan selviytymisopas. Helsinki, 2015.

Suomen Syöpäpotilaat ry. Syöpäpotilaan sosiaaliopas 2015. Helsinki, 2015.