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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Survivors Face Employment Hurdles

Cancer Survivors More Likely Than People Without Health Problems to Be Unemployed, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 17, 2009 -- Cancer survivors are more likely than people without serious health problems to be unemployed, a new study indicates.

That’s especially true for breast and gastrointestinal cancer survivors, says a report in the Feb. 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Factors affecting employment status included discrimination because of illnesses, adverse effects of cancer treatment, difficulty combining treatment with full-time work, and physical or mental limitations, according to the researchers.

“Many cancer survivors want and are able to return to work after diagnosis and treatment,” the authors say in a news release.

Angela G.E.M. de Boer, PhD, and colleagues at the Coronel Institute of Occupational Health, Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, analyzed results of 36 previous studies from the United States, Europe, and five other countries.

The studies included information on 177,969 people, including 20,366 cancer survivors and 157,603 healthy people.

Overall, cancer survivors were 1.37 times more likely to be unemployed than the healthy comparison group.

Analysis by diagnosis showed that 35.6% of breast cancer survivors were unemployed, compared to 31.7% of healthy individuals. Survivors of gastrointestinal cancers and cancers of the female reproductive organs also were found to be more likely than their healthy counterparts to be unemployed.

Higher risks of unemployment were not evident in survivors of prostate, testicular, and blood cancers.

Cancer survivors were more likely than healthy people to report physical limitations or cancer-related symptoms as reasons for their unemployment.

“Voluntary unemployment is not likely unless patients have other resources for income, which is not the case for most cancer survivors,” the authors say. “Employment outcomes can be improved with innovations in treatment and with clinical and supportive services aimed at better management of symptoms, rehabilitation, and accommodation for disabilities.”

What’s more, they add, workplace interventions are called for to assist cancer survivors, including paid sick leaves during treatment.

Such interventions are badly needed because they could offset financial losses of cancer survivors and improve their quality of life, the authors say. What’s more, many survivors are able to return to work and want to get back on the job, regarding that point as a sign of full recovery.

Only Taina Taskila, PhD, reported getting funds to conduct research, which came from the Finnish Work Environment Fund, a nonprofit governmental funding organization.

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