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Over two-thirds of workers were still employed 5 to 7 years after initial diagnosis of early-stage cancer, even though more than half required some time away from work while undergoing treatment. What's more, their employers were very supportive and accommodated reduced schedules and absenteeism during treatment, according to a pilot study.
We can be cautiously optimistic about the ability of people who have a history of cancer to continue to work, conclude Cathy J. Bradley, Ph.D., of Michigan State University, and Heather L. Bednarek, Ph.D., formerly a service fellow in the Center for Cost and Financing Studies, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and now at St. Louis University in Missouri.
They surveyed by telephone 253 cancer patients (aged 35-75) randomly selected from the Metropolitan Detroit Cancer Surveillance system 5 to 7 years after their diagnosis of early-stage breast, colon, lung, or prostate cancer, to assess the long-term employment effects of cancer. At the time of the interview, most patients were in their early 60s, except for prostate cancer patients who were in their mid-to-late 60s. Nearly all patients had received cancer treatment and had health insurance. Of those working at the time of their initial diagnosis, 67 percent were employed 5-7 years later. Many worked more than 40 hours a week and had relatively high earnings.
Most patients who stopped working did so because they retired (54 percent) or were in poor health or disabled (24 percent). Half of the retirees said that cancer did not factor into their decision to retire. Of those that had to reduce their work schedules (55 percent) while undergoing cancer treatment, 86 percent returned to their former schedules. The cancer did limit the work of some patients, particularly those who needed to lift heavy loads or keep up with a pace set by other workers. To a lesser extent, cancer affected some survivors' ability to concentrate for long periods of time (12 percent), learn new things (14 percent), and analyze data (11 percent).
More details are in "Employment patterns of long-term cancer survivors," by Drs. Bradley and Bednarek, in Psycho-Oncology 11, pp. 188-198, 2002.
Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 02-R095) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse
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