Breast Cancer Treatment Could Affect Work Life

Breast cancer chemotherapy tied to employment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For patients newly diagnosed with cancer, the primary focus is health and getting well. But a new study suggests that another important area — employment — may suffer after treatment.

This new study focused on the long-term employment of women who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.

The study found that many women working before treatment were not working four years later, despite reporting that work was important to them.

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"Many women with early-stage breast cancer are working at the time of diagnosis and survive without disease recurrence," explained the authors of this new study, which was led by Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Dr. Jagsi and team set out to explore the employment of women in the long term after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

To do so, these researchers looked at data from the Los Angeles and Detroit Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program registries, which drew from multiple health centers in the two cities between 2005 and 2007. Women who were diagnosed with nonmetastatic breast cancer — meaning cancer that had not spread in the body beyond the initial site — were identified.

In total, 2,290 women completed a baseline (start of study) survey an average of nine months after they were diagnosed. Of these women, 1,536 completed a follow-up survey four years later. The surveys included questions on employment and demographics.

Dr. Jagsi and team focused on the 1,026 women who completed both surveys, whose breast cancer did not return during the study period and who were under the age of 65 when they were diagnosed.

Among these women, 746 reported working for pay before being diagnosed. At the follow-up, 236 of these women reported no longer working.

Women whose initial treatment included chemotherapy were less likely to be working at follow-up than their peers who did not receive chemotherapy — 38 percent of chemotherapy patients reported no longer working versus 27 percent of the non-chemotherapy group.

Dr. Jagsi and team also noted that women receiving chemotherapy at the time of their diagnosis were 40 percent more likely to be unemployed four years later than those who did not receive chemotherapy.

Of the women who were unemployed at the follow-up, 50 percent reported that work was important to them and 31 percent reported that they were actively seeking work.

"In conclusion, the results of the current study suggest that loss of paid employment after a diagnosis of breast cancer may be common, often undesired, not restricted to the treatment period, and potentially related to the type of treatment administered," wrote Dr. Jagsi and team.

"Many clinicians believe that although patients may miss work during treatment, they will 'bounce back' in the longer term," explained the study authors. "The results of the current study suggest otherwise and highlight a possible adverse consequence of adjuvant chemotherapy."

The researchers stressed the importance of furthering efforts to reduce the burden and complications associated with breast cancer treatments.

It is important to note that the employment data was self-reported by participants, and participants were drawn from only two metropolitan areas in the US. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

This study was published online April 28 in the journal Cancer.

Grants that supported the study were provided by the National Cancer Institute. The study authors reported ties to a number of additional organizations, including the American Cancer Society, AbbVie Pharmaceuticals and the University of Michigan.

Review Date: 
April 29, 2014
Last Updated:
April 30, 2014