Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Joblessness a Side Effect of Breast Cancer Chemo

Survey found over one-third who had the drug therapy were unemployed four years later

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 28, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Women with breast cancer who undergo chemotherapy are more likely to end up unemployed than patients who get other treatments, a new study reports.

The study of women younger than 65 found that four years after treatment for early stage breast cancer, more than one-third who had chemotherapy were out of work compared to just over one-quarter of women who had other treatments.

"Many of us realize the chemotherapy is going to knock the wind out of your sails temporarily. We [as doctors] have tended to assume women bounced back, and the results here suggest that's not the case," said study researcher Dr. Reshma Jagsi, associate professor and associate chair of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Along with gains in breast cancer survival comes a responsibility for experts to look at treatment effects on a person's life and livelihood, Jagsi said.

The long-term link with unemployment surprised her, Jagsi said, although she noted that the study doesn't establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the drug therapy for early stage breast cancer and later job loss.

For the study, published online April 28 in Cancer, Jagsi and her colleagues evaluated data from U.S. registries on women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer between 2005 and 2007. They sent surveys to over 3,000 women right after diagnosis and four years later.

The study authors focused on the 746 women under age 65 who answered both surveys and who worked for pay before their cancer diagnosis.

Of these, 30 percent were unemployed at the four-year follow-up, although many said they wanted to work and were job-hunting.

Jagsi's team then looked at the type of treatment and whether it had a bearing on employment status. Those who received chemotherapy were 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed than those who didn't have that treatment, the investigators found.

Thirty-eight percent of the chemotherapy patients were unemployed four years later versus 27 percent of those who didn't get chemo. That difference was statistically significant.

The study didn't go into the reasons for job loss, but Jagsi had some ideas. "It may be that they are experiencing long-term side effects, like nerve problems that can happen after certain kinds of chemotherapy, that can make it hard to drive a bus or type on a keyboard," she said.

Another possibility: "In the current economy, it's really hard to keep your job or get it back after you've missed a lot of work or stopped working during treatment," she said.

Other research has found that cancer survivors can experience long-term "chemo brain" -- a kind of mental fogginess -- after chemotherapy.

The other take-home message from her study, Jagsi said, is that women must become advocates for themselves and their careers. They should talk to the doctor in depth about the range of treatments and the pros and cons of each, she explained.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW