Most Cancer Survivors Keep Working

About 1 in 10 Cancer Survivors Quits Work Within 4 Years of Diagnosis

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March 24, 2005 - Only one in five cancer survivors is disabled and one in 10 quits work for a cancer-related reason in the first four years after diagnosis, according to a new study.

Researchers say roughly half of all adult cancers are diagnosed in people under age 65, which means the disease could potentially affect their professional life and work opportunities.

But they say the results suggest that the work prospects are good for most cancer survivors with the vast majority who were employed at the time of diagnosis still working up to four years later.

Work After Cancer Common

In the study, researchers surveyed 1,433 men and women aged 25 to 62 who were working at the time they were diagnosed with cancer. They were asked about their employment and disability status two to four years later.

The results showed that similar numbers of men and women stopped working during cancer treatment (41% and 39%, respectively), and most of the survivors who returned to work did so during the first year.

Overall, about 84% of the cancer survivors returned to work within four years after their cancer diagnosis.

Roughly one in five, 21% of women and 16% of men, who were working when they were diagnosed with cancer reported disabilities or limitations in their ability to work that were related to cancer up to four years later. About half of the cancer survivors with disabilities continued to work.

People with cancers of the brain and spinal cord, head and neck, and blood had the highest rates of disability and were most likely to quit work. The lowest rates of quitting were among survivors of uterine, female breast, prostate, and thyroid cancers.

"One of the reassuring findings from this study is that encouraging people to get mammograms to detect breast cancer and PSA tests to check for prostate cancer has clearly had a positive effect. People diagnosed early with these cancers usually have a good quality of life four to five years after treatment -- including being fully employed," says researcher Pamela Farley Short, PhD, professor of health policy and administration and demography at Penn State, in a news release.


"However, there is a minority of cancer survivors who have ongoing problems and the challenge is to help them with a comprehensive range of clinical and supportive services aimed at better management of symptoms, rehabilitation and accommodation of disabilities."

Other highlights of the study include:

  • A cancer diagnosis increased the likelihood of quitting work and disability in men. This association was weaker in women.
  • Cancer survivors with physically demanding jobs had higher rates of disability but were no more likely to quit work.
  • Survivors with postgraduate education were less likely to quit work than any other educational group.

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SOURCES: Short, P. Cancer, March 2005; vol 103: pp 1292-1301. News release, Penn State.
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