The Manual
25 Feb 2014

The Manual - Work and prostate cancer

Men often want to know how they can best carry on working when they have prostate cancer. Here, we answer some of the questions you’ve been asking us

Men often want to know how they can best carry on working when they have prostate cancer. Here, we answer some of the questions you’ve been asking us

Should I tell my employer that I’ve got prostate cancer and what’s the best way?

Some men worry about telling their employer they have prostate cancer because they think they won’t be supported or their employer will want to get rid of them. You don’t have to tell your employer about your prostate cancer but they may not be able to support you as well if you don’t. The sooner you tell them, the better prepared they will be. And try to be as upfront as you can about how you think prostate cancer and treatment will affect you.

Remember, the law says your employer can’t discriminate against you because you have cancer. Anyone who has or has had cancer is protected by the Equality Act (or the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland). This means that employers have to consider making changes to help you carry on working. This could be anything from letting you take rest breaks or reducing or changing your duties for a while.

My employer wasn’t that helpful when I told him about having prostate cancer. What can I do?

Although lots of employers are very supportive, some can be less understanding, especially if they’ve not had experience of supporting an employee with cancer before. You could try explaining some of the issues or give them some information leaflets to read. If your employer is struggling to know how to help you, a nurse or other health professional at your hospital may be willing to speak to them or write a letter to them explaining what your needs are.

How much time will I need off work for treatment?

You might need to take time off work for treatment and appointments. This will depend on the type of work you do, what treatment you’re having and how it affects you. For example, if you’ve had surgery and work in an office, you could be back at work within two weeks. But if you need to do heavy lifting or travel a lot, it could be four to six weeks. Many men keep working if they’re having radiotherapy, though they might take time off if they have side effects like feeling extremely tired (fatigued).

It’s a good idea to have warned your employer in advance that you may not feel well and will need time off. How much time you will need off work is very individual so discuss this with your doctor. Ask them for a note to give to your employer saying how much time you’ll need. You should then discuss this with your employer. Find out what your company sickness policy is – as the pay and time off you can have varies between employers. You might need to try to arrange appointments for as close to the start or end of the day as possible so you don’t need to take as much time off.

How will the side effects of treatment affect me at work and what can I do to manage these?

Leaking urine is often the biggest issue for men with prostate cancer to deal with at work. A lot of men use pads to avoid leaks – if you do, make sure you take enough pads into work. Having to leave your desk frequently to urinate might make you feel self-conscious. This might be easier if you’ve told your employer and your colleagues in advance. Although some men won’t want to tell anyone and you don’t have to, if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.

Your employer should, by law, consider ways to make things easier for you – for example, allowing you to sit near a toilet or putting in cubicles rather than urinals to give more privacy. Make sure that you get hold of drinks at work as not having enough can make urinary problems worse.

Prostate cancer and its treatment can make you feel extremely tired. This can make it harder to concentrate and do your work. Try to get a good night’s sleep and, if you can, find some time to do some gentle exercise, such as walking to keep you feeling energised. You could keep a diary each day to help work out when you work best and do the harder tasks then. Or you could talk to your manager about delaying work or delegating work until you feel better.

Men who are on hormone therapy sometimes have hot flushes. If you do, make sure you have access to a fan or window, wear layers so you can take them off to cool down, and bring in a change of clothes to work.

What help can I get when I return to work? And how should I ask for this?

Make an appointment with your manager. Explain how you think prostate cancer and its treatment will affect you. You might need to ask them to be flexible, as you won’t always know exactly how you’re going to feel. Go armed with solutions – rather than leave it to your employer – although they might have some helpful suggestions too.

You could ask your manager to help you prioritise your work and decide what you’re able to manage. Many employers will consider flexible working. This is where you change your working hours or duties so you can carry on working. If mornings are hard for you, could you start later and finish a bit later? It might help to avoid travelling in rush hour. Could you work from home or have a phased return to work where you slowly build up your hours? Could you take regular short breaks to ensure that you don’t tire yourself out too much?

Have a think about what would work best for you. It might help to talk to someone who’s been in a similar situation. Prostate Cancer UK has a one-to-one support service where you can talk with a trained volunteer who has experienced going back to work with prostate cancer. There’s also a telephone support service called Get back on track that can help with managing fatigue.

You can access both services by calling the Specialist Nurses on 0800 074 8383. Or read more about living with prostate cancer