Cancer is no laughing matter. Obviously it is a serious disease; complicated and deadly. As such, then, it would not be too difficult to imagine that receiving a diagnosis of cancer would weigh heavily on a person. But while it might seem that dealing with the complex issues—and looming death—might force people to reexamine the direction of their lives, at least one-third of cancer patients continue to work.
As a matter of fact, a new study says that more patients stay at their job until they are too physically sick to continue.
Lead study author Dr. Amye Tevaarwerk is an oncologist with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public health. She notes, “The factor that associated most strongly with no longer working was a high symptom burden. It wasn’t any of these other things, like where your cancer is located or your gender or the treatment you are receiving.”
The research team examined data from previous cancer research which tracked more than 3,000 patients who were being treated, at the time, for one of the four most common types of solid tumor (breast, prostate, colon, or lung). Of these patients, 668 had cancer which spread to other parts of the body were of working age. And of that population, 236 were still working at least part time.
“That is a fairly high number,” Tevaarwerk commented, regarding the 35 percent still working. “These patients, who might have a life expectancy between a year and five years, continue to be gainfully employed.”
She also explains, “Patients are probably working for a number of reasons. Some might need the income or the access to health insurance. But, for others work provides a source of social support, a distraction from their health problems, and a sense of normalcy in their lives. It’s going to be a complicated mix.”
While the study certainly found a correlation, the research team has not been able to conclude why so many continue to work. In a statement to Reuters, she also comments, “Our findings suggest that there are potential modifiable factors associated with change to `no longer working’ and that managing either cancer or treatment-related symptoms more aggressively might allow metastatic cancer patients to continue working if they desire or need to.”