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A Career with Cancer

It’s a Challenge

Taking time off of work during cancer treatment is an option of last resort. Most people can’t afford to take months off of work, especially with the added expense of medical treatment. Even with insurance, medical bills are a considerable burden. Disability payments only replace a fraction of the patient’s salary and COBRA takes a chunk of that.

Working while being treated for cancer depends on keeping symptoms under control and retaining strength. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at the experiences of 668 people with metastatic cancer. Nearly 60% needed to adjust their employment or stop working.

“For patients with metastatic cancer, a great deal of attention is focused on the events surrounding initial diagnosis of disease and the issues surrounding the end-of-life; however, between cancer recurrence and the end-of-life, these patients are living their lives day-to-day and there are a number of unique survivorship issues during this time that have been overlooked by researchers,” said Dr. Tevaarwerk.

The difference between the 35% of patients who continued working, even if only part-time, and the 45% who stopped working was the burden of symptoms. The type of cancer treatment, type of cancer, and time since diagnosis did not seem to affect employment.


Manage the Side Effects to Take Control

Most cancer side effects can be managed with support and guidance from a knowledgeable care team. From oral health to loss of appetite, there’s a large amount of evidence-based research on how to minimize side effects so patients can get on with their lives.

The study highlights the importance of managing symptoms in order to minimize the long-term financial impacts of cancer. As improved treatments for metastatic cancer prolong lives, continued employment becomes more important than ever.

Over 60% of people diagnosed with cancer will live through it — and their jobs are required to provide reasonable accommodation. Employees with cancer are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Cancer patients and survivors may not identify as being disabled, but disabilities has a specific legal meaning for the ADA and covers people with cancer.

Discrimination against cancer patients was common in the 1970s. While cancer patients and survivors continue to face issues at work, things have come a long way. Today, many people find their employers to be supportive and there are resources for patients to navigate working while undergoing treatment.

*Some information provided in a press release from CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. Working after a metastatic cancer diagnosis: factors affecting employment in the metastatic setting from ECOG’s Symptom Outcomes and Practice Patterns (SOAPP) study.” Amye Tevaarwerk, Ju-Whei Lee, Abigail Terhaar, Mary Sesto, Mary Lou Smith, Charles Cleeland, and Michael Fisch. CANCER; Published Online: December 21, 2015 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.29656).
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