Work Absences after Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JUNE 06, 2017

It is obvious that people undergoing active cancer treatment need to miss quite a lot of work. Those absences are due to appointments, treatments, and days of not feeling well because of said treatments. We manage this in a range of ways. A very supportive and flexible manager/work place is a major help. Many of us have useful benefits like ST disability and sick time and FMLA. Others are not so fortunate and don't get paid when they don't show up for work; this surely adds a pressure and stress to an already difficult period.

What about when treatment is done? In addition to the general assumption that things will quickly return to normal, there is the belief that this assumption includes work schedules and life. The truth may be less rosy. Although most people regain enough energy and focus to work fairly quickly, there are those for whom it takes longer. Again, a flexible and supportive work place helps a lot. If you can curtail some days, it makes the recovery easier. Then there are all the follow up medical appointments. It can seem that every doctor who had a role, even a minor one, in your care wants to see you several times after the first months. Those appointments spread out pretty quickly, but they can be an issue at work.

This article from JCO, reporting a study from Sweden, indicates that this is an issue for many women post breast cancer for the first year, and that there work absences return to the norm shortly thereafter. I would assume the experience is similar for people recovering from other kinds of cancer treatment.

Here is the abstract and a link to read more:

Sickness Absence and Disability Pension After Breast Cancer
Diagnosis: A 5-Year Nationwide Cohort Study

To explore future diagnosis-specific sickness absence and disability pension among women with
breast cancer compared with women without breast cancer. Also, to examine associations with
disease-related and sociodemographic factors among those with breast cancer.
Longitudinal register data on 3,547 women living in Sweden (age 20 to 65 years) who were first
diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, and a matched comparison cohort (n = 14,188), were analyzed for the annual prevalence of diagnosis-specific sickness absence and disability pension over 5 years. Logistic regressions were used to explore associations of disease-related and sociodemographic factors with future sickness absence and disability pension among women with breast cancer.
Immediately after being diagnosed with breast cancer, the proportion of women with sickness
absence was high but decreased continuously from the 1st through 5th year after diagnosis (71%,
40%, 30%, 22%, and 19%, respectively). In comparison, the range for women without breast
cancer was 17% to 11%, respectively. The higher prevalence of sickness absence after breast
cancer was mainly a result of breast cancer diagnosis, not a mental diagnosis, or other somatic
diagnoses. Advanced cancer at diagnosis, . 90 days sickness absence before diagnosis, low
education, and being born outside Sweden were associated with higher odds ratios for sickness
absence and disability pension (odds ratio range, 1.40 to 6.45).
The level of sickness absence increased substantially in women with breast cancer during the first  year after diagnosis and approached the level of breast cancer–free women in the following years; however, even in the first year, most women were not on sickness absence for a substantial time, and even in high-risk groups, many were not on sickness absence or disability pension in the following years. Information about relatively low future sickness absence and disability pension levels can be used by patients when planning their work, by health care professionals, and by social insurance officers. Employers and Occupational Health Services need this information to adequately handle workplace adjustments.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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