Why Breast Cancer Patients Often Lose Employment After Diagnosis

Until recently, little was known about the long-term effects of breast cancer on employment. A new study indicates that unemployment is relatively high among women diagnosed with breast cancer, and the type of treatments they receive may be to blame.

The research, conducted by the University of Michigan Health System, focused on female adults of working age who survived breast cancer throughout their treatment. It showed that treatment schedules and medical side effects prevent newly diagnosed patients from continuing to work.

The study analyzed 2,290 women diagnosed with breast cancer over a 2 year period. The patients were asked to complete surveys about their jobs, financial status, and other aspects of life shortly after they were diagnosed. Nearly 1,600 of these women participated in a 4-year follow-up questionnaire, of which the majority were under the average age of retirement.

Given that most of these women were still of working age, you might expect them to still be employed. However, the 4-year follow-up revealed a massive drop in employment among patients whose cancer did not recur. While over 75% of patients still of working age were gainfully employed prior to treatment, only 46% retained their jobs post-cancer.

The study shows what a critical effect chemotherapy has on the employment of breast cancer patients. Women who received chemotherapy as part of their initial treatment were far less likely to be employed than women who were not initially treated with chemotherapy.

Women treated with chemotherapy at diagnosis are 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed after the completion of treatment.

This research promotes the idea of finding alternative treatments to chemotherapy that may be less harmful in the long-term. Ideally, patients should be properly educated about the serious risks associated with chemotherapy and should be able to make an informed decision about which treatment method they choose.

Researchers involved with the study admit that it focuses solely on patients living in Los Angeles and Detroit, two large urban areas. They acknowledge that rural patients may react differently to breast cancer treatment, and geographic and cultural differences could affect their findings.

This study raises serious concern about the effects of chemotherapy on financial stability and employment. Compared with their healthier counterparts, breast cancer survivors face extreme difficulty and must overcome many challenges on their road to recovery and financial and physical stability.


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