Cancer-Related Unemployment Can Decrease Quality of Life

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Patients who are financially struggling due to job loss after a cancer diagnosis may benefit from multidisciplinary back-to-work programs and financial counseling, according to an expert.

Patients with brain or spinal tumors who are unemployed due to their disease reported more symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared with counterparts who were employed, according to recent study results.

“This highlights that we need to take care of the person living with the cancer and not just the cancer,” said. Dr. Heather Leeper, lead author on the study and assistant professor at the University of Chicago, in an interview with CURE®.

The goal of the study — which was published in the journal Neurology — was to evaluate how being unemployed due to the disease, impacted quality of life in patients with brain and spinal tumors.

“We thought that those issues were important because if individuals are no longer able to work, we realized that had economic implications in terms of not only not having income, but then they also potentially have lost access to employer-based insurance, which is a major factor for being insured here in the United States, given that there's no national health service,” Leeper said.

She also added that people go to work for more reasons than just financial. They might be doing something they are passionate about or finding a sense of purpose.

READ MORE: On Cancer and Careers: How a Diagnosis Changed Survivors’ Jobs

The study included 277 patients, and notably, those who were Hispanic were 2.3 times more likely in the overall group to report unemployment, and 3.2 times more likely in the brain tumor group.

Those 77 individuals (28%) who reported unemployment in the overall group also reported more functional impairment with walking, washing, dressing, preforming usual activities and a declined health-related quality of life.

Moreover, patients who were unemployed reported more moderate to severe depressive (25%) and anxiety symptoms (30%) than those who were employed (8%; 15%, respectively).

Patients with brain tumors who were unemployed reported, on average, three more symptoms as moderate to severe compared to those employed.

“I would love for patients to be able to read this work and know that they have a voice to bring to their providers and ask ‘What else can I be doing to improve my function to make my quality of life better?’” Leeper said.

How Patients Can Take Action

For those who are struggling due to unemployment after a cancer diagnosis, Leeper recommends searching for a “return-to-work program,” with a multidisciplinary approach — which may include additional physical, occupational and/or speech therapy.

“It does seem that there have been return-to-work programs that are multidisciplinary that show in research that patients who participate in those programs are able to return to work at much higher rates than people who just have physical therapy or just have occupational therapy — meaning that it takes a multidisciplinary approach to be able to give these patients the support they need to resume going back to work,” she said.

Some patients might also look into a different job position or field than the one they had prior to a cancer diagnosis. Cancer can impact both physical and cognitive impacts on patients, so if they had a job with high physical demand, they may not be able to do that anymore, but could excel elsewhere; and the same goes for a job with a high cognitive demand.

And for those who are struggling in a financial aspect, they may benefit from financial counseling. This can provide support in understanding health insurance, pharmacy means, medical bills and how to obtain health insurance if a patient doesn’t have it or will soon not have it because of the inability to return back to work.

“I think the next thing that we within clinical research need to do a better job on is an ongoing basis to understand the needs of patients and understand how we can connect people with the resources that they need, when they are not able to,” Leeper concluded.

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