Older cancer survivors pull their weight in workplace, study says

June 26, 2007

University Park, Pa. -- Cancer survivors between 55 and 65 years old who remain cancer-free for two to six years after diagnosis are as likely to be working as their peers who have not had cancer, a new study shows. However, people recently diagnosed with new cancers are less likely to be working.

"It's mostly good news," said Dr. Pamela Farley Short, lead author and professor of health policy and administration at Penn State. "Once you get through the treatment, then, generally speaking, you can look forward to being productive and expect that your career will not be affected."

The study appears online in the article "Long-term effects of cancer survivorship on the employment of older workers," in the journal Health Services Research.

The Penn State team conducted annual telephone interviews with 504 patients who were working when diagnosed with cancer. The researchers compared the results to data drawn from a study of 3,903 people of similar ages who never had cancer.

In the cancer-free group, 63.4 percent of the men and 51 percent of the women were working full-time. Among the cancer survivors overall, 51.4 percent of men and 48.3 percent of women were working full-time; among those who had no new cancers, 55.8 percent of men and 50.9 percent of women were working full-time. However, of those cancer survivors diagnosed with new cancers, only 34.2 percent of men and 36.5 percent of women were working full-time.

"What this is saying is that there is every reason to believe that survivors will continue to be productive workers and will stick with their employer," Short said.

There were no significant differences in the average number of hours worked per week between the control group (33 and 26.8 hours per week for men and women, respectively) and the survivors with no new cancers (30.1 and 26.4 hours, respectively). However, there was a significant difference for the survivors with new cancers, where weekly employment amounted to 20.4 hours per male survivor and 20.5 hours per female survivor.

The researchers say that the findings indicate that, although a cancer diagnosis can affect employment during the immediate treatment period, the long-term effects on employment might not be as great as thought previously.

Five-year survival of cancer has risen to 65 percent and there are more than 10 million cancer survivors in the United States.

Health Services Research is the official journal of AcademyHealth and is published by Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Health Research and Educational Trust. HSR is available at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/loi/hesr online.

The article is "Long-term effects of cancer survivorship on the employment of older workers," Short PF, Vasey JJ, Moran JR, Health Services Research online, 2007

Last Updated March 31, 2010