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Among people diagnosed with nonmetastatic lung or colorectal cancer, the majority return to work, according to a study recently published in Journal of Clinical Oncology. Those who do leave the workforce tend to have worse prognoses and lower socioeconomic status.

Cancer treatment affects everyone differently, and many factors will determine whether you’ll continue to work during treatment or how soon you’ll return following a diagnosis or completion of treatment. Factors that may influence your ability to work during or after treatment include your overall health, the nature of your work, the type of treatment you receive, and the stage of cancer.

To further understand how a cancer diagnosis impacts employment among survivors, researchers evaluated patients with nonmetastatic lung and colorectal cancers. These 2,422 patients had survived at least 15 months following diagnosis. They reported their employment status at four and 15 months after diagnosis.

  • At 15 months after diagnosis, employment among patients had declined from 3% to 31%.
  • 17% of patients employed when the study began reported loss of employment associated with their cancer diagnoses.
  • There was a higher rate of job loss among lung cancer patients compared with colorectal cancer patients.
  • Patients with more-advanced cancers (Stage III) experienced a higher rate of job loss than those with earlier-stage disease (Stage I-II).
  • Other factors associated with higher rates of job loss included lower education and income levels and, for colorectal cancer patients, older age.
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The researchers concluded that although most patients diagnosed with lung or colorectal cancer do return to work, the approximately one in six who lose their jobs shouldn’t be overlooked; this rate of job departure should be considered during treatment planning. It’s possible that certain management decisions could make it more likely for patients to retain their jobs.

Reference: Earle CC, Chretien Y, et al. Employment Among Survivors of Lung Cancer and Colorectal Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2010 Apr 1;28(10):1700-5.