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Cancer and Your Career


Whether you’re beginning a new job, considering a new work path or returning to the office, a welcome sense of normalcy after diagnosis and treatment can surface as you move forward. Balancing work while still in treatment is also something you may need to think about.

Finding Normalcy Through Work

A breast cancer diagnosis can be a catalyst for change. You may face many decisions such as whether to return to your current job, try something new or re-enter the workforce if you weren’t working at the time you were diagnosed. Perhaps you’re balancing treatment while working and are transitioning back to a post-treatment schedule. Whatever the scenario, being informed can help you face career challenges with confidence.

Know Your Workplace Rights

Once you’re cleared to return to work, you may need to speak with your co-workers and/or manager about your medical situation. Remember, you’re in charge of how much or how little they learn.

If you’re working while going through treatment, it can be helpful to set your own hours. A shorter schedule or changing your hours to when you have more energy may help you be more productive. Consider how and when you use sick leave to find a balance that works for you. Be sure to familiarize yourself with workplace policies to successfully navigate work and treatment.

Resources that can help you get informed about your rights and protections:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide adjustments or modifications to enable people with cancer to enjoy equal employment opportunities unless doing so would be an undue hardship.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) is designed to prohibit the improper use of genetic information in health insurance and employment.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that covered employers grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition. This leave can also be taken to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition.

The Cancer Legal Resource Center of the Disability Rights Legal Center offers more in-depth information about your rights under these acts.

Cancer and Careers can help with information and coaching. 

Triage Cancer® is a national, nonprofit organization that provides free education on legal and practical issues that may impact individuals diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers, through events, materials, and resources. The Legal & Financial Navigation Program offers one-on-one help with issues such as work, health and disability insurance, finances, and estate planning. is an online toolkit to help people manage finances after a cancer diagnosis.

Ask for Help

Cancer treatment is exhausting, and it takes time to heal. Co-workers and managers can best help if they know what you need. This could mean extending a deadline, changing a meeting time or working from home. Don’t be afraid to ask, and be open about what you need.

Work can be fulfilling and offer a way to ground you during and after a time when so much has felt out of your control. It’s okay to ask for help and take your time. Whatever you decide to do, whether it's returning to work or not, make the decision that’s right for you.

Learn more about cancer, careers and your workplace rights through our video and audio recordings.

Resource Links