Employment Rehabilitation

Many people with cancer can continue to work despite their illness. Sometimes work schedules may need to be readjusted during periods of active treatment, but there is often little reason to think that your ability to support yourself and your family will be drastically altered following a cancer diagnosis. If an important part of who you are as a person is your work, it will be essential for you to continue to be productive. Most employers are willing to accommodate valued employees. They realize it is in the company's best interest to retain an employee who has made a commitment to the company. Be honest with your employer if you will need to readjust job duties or schedules while undergoing treatment. However, you should expect that your employer will welcome your return following treatment.

Occasionally a company will not be as understanding as you might hope. This is due to the incorrect idea that people with cancer will not be as productive or will miss large blocks of time from work. Studies have shown this is not the case and that people with cancer are, in fact, more reliable employees than the general population. If you sense that your employer is misinformed about cancer and your ability to work, talk to your doctor or social worker. Often they will be willing to speak with your employer and provide accurate information about your illness and capabilities.

If you are unable to return to your job and need to look for a new one, the situation might become more difficult. Job application forms typically ask about a person's health history, and employers often fear that a person with a chronic illness will be using more health insurance coverage than a person without such an illness. However, it is illegal for companies to discriminate against you because of a cancer history. The federal Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination by any institution receiving government funds. This includes most schools, hospitals, and colleges. In addition, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act makes it illegal for companies to discriminate against you because of a history of cancer. Questions on applications or in interviews must be related to your ability to perform the job you are applying for. Also, be aware that you are required to have a pre-employment medical examination only if all other applicants undergo the same examination. If you need to find a new job and can no longer perform the kind of work you did before your diagnosis, you may be eligible for job retraining through the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. There are people and agencies ready to help those experiencing employment difficulties because of cancer.


  1. Payment for physical, occupational, or speech therapy through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation if those services are needed for you to perform a job.

  2. Vocational evaluation, counseling, and job placement if you need to find a new type of work.

  3. Assistance from private employment agencies. These agencies counsel people and help them find jobs in their chosen fields. The fee for this service is paid for by the job applicant or by the prospective employer.


  1. First, talk to your doctor about your employment difficulties to be sure you are correct in assessing your potential to perform your job. If your doctor agrees you need another kind of employment, he or she or the hospital social worker can refer you to the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

  2. Call the Office of Employment Security or a private employment agency if you do not need vocational rehabilitation but need help finding a new job.


  • Be sure to talk with your employer if you think your work schedule will need to be readjusted during times of active treatment. Most employers will be cooperative if they know what to expect from the start. Sometimes employers will reassign patients to a less strenuous job during the time of active treatment. Employers, under the Human Relations Act, are obligated to make "reasonable accommodations" to the needs of qualified employees.

  • If you would like more information about job-related problems or job discrimination, contact your American Cancer Society and ask for a copy of "Cancer -- Your Job, Insurance and the Law." The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission can also give you information.

  • The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) concerns itself with employment problems of people with cancer. Its telephone number is 1-505-764-9956.

  • If you plan to change jobs, find out how your health insurance will be affected. You may be excluded from coverage for a certain period of time, so it is important to know about this before you make a decision to change jobs.


Understanding Proton Re-Irradiation
by OncoLink Editorial Team
January 28, 2016