Only one of five cancer survivors surveyed in a Penn State study were disabled or out of work four years after treatment, but a minority suffered lasting effects that prevented them from working.
Dr. Pamela Farley Short, professor of health policy and administration and demography who led the study, says, "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.
"However, there is a minority of cancer survivors who have on-going 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," she adds.
Short, who is a member of the U.S. Institute of Medicine's Cancer Survivorship Committee, notes that there are, currently, about 10 million U.S. cancer survivors. So, the minority who survive but have continuing problems represent about 2 million people.
The study, "Employment Pathways in a Large Cohort of Adult Cancer Survivors," is detailed in the current issue of the journal, Cancer. Short's co-authors are Dr. Joseph J. Vasey, research associate in Penn State's Center for Health Care and Policy Research, and Dr. Kaan Tunceli, Short's former doctoral student who is now at the Center for Health Services Research, Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, Michigan.
In the study, 1433 men and women, ages 25 to 62 who were working at the time of their cancer diagnosis, were interviewed about their employment and disability status two to five years later. All types of cancer survivors were included, except for those with common skin cancers and most patients diagnosed at an advanced stage.
The researchers found that similar numbers of men and women stopped working during cancer treatment (41 percent of men and 39 percent of women) and most of those who returned to work did so during the first year after treatment. The rate of return to work after four years was 84 percent.
One worker out of eight quit work because of cancer within four years of being diagnosed, with women more likely to quit than men. The highest rates of quitting were among those with blood, central nervous system and head and neck cancers. The lowest rates of quitting were among survivors of uterine, female breast, prostate and thyroid cancers.
Short notes, "Today, most cancer patients can be very hopeful for a good outcome and a continued ability to work. But survivors who experience lasting problems post-treatment should not hesitate to tell their physicians when they have difficulty at work. " The study was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.