Mentally, Physically Demanding Jobs Linked to Unemployment After Breast Cancer Surgery

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The effect of a breast cancer diagnosis on work life can vary from person to person. For some people, the effect is minimal because they have an understanding supervisor, a flexible schedule, and a supportive team helping them during treatment.

For other people, taking time off for treatment may put their job at risk.

Past research suggests that people who have been treated for breast cancer are more likely to be unemployed compared to people who have never been diagnosed. Researchers wanted to figure out the risk factors for unemployment after breast cancer treatment so they could develop strategies to offset the risk factors.

A review study has found that people with mentally and/or physically demanding jobs are more likely to be unemployed after breast cancer surgery.

The study was published online on May 14, 2018 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Read the abstract of “Predictors of Unemployment After Breast Cancer Surgery: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.”

This study was a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis combines and analyzes the results of many earlier studies. In this case, the researchers reviewed 26 studies that included 46,927 people diagnosed with breast cancer looking at the factors associated with unemployment after breast cancer surgery. The studies were done before March 1, 2017.

An observational study is a study that observes people or measures certain outcomes. The researchers make no attempt to affect the outcomes.

The researchers found a link between jobs with high psychological demands and high physical demands and a higher likelihood of unemployment after breast cancer surgery.

High psychological demands included:

  • mentally taxing jobs
  • jobs where the employee had little control over decisions
  • inability to modify job tasks
  • lack of support and/or accommodation in work schedule

High physical demands included:

  • manual labor
  • strenuous work postures
  • physically demanding jobs

Unemployment after being diagnosed with breast cancer is linked to lower quality of life and worse outcomes, while working after diagnosis is linked to better health, higher self-esteem, and better social functioning.

The researchers concluded that “addressing high physical and psychological job demands may be important in reducing unemployment after breast cancer surgery. Our review adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that nonmedical factors may be more important than injury or disease burden in predicting return to function. Our results suggest that rehabilitation programs that focus only on addressing medical issues and symptoms associated with breast cancer will be unlikely to improve return-to-work rates.”

Many people take time off work during breast cancer treatment because of side effects. If you have a mentally or physically challenging job, it’s possible this may lead to long-term employment problems. Besides short-term side effects such as nausea, pain, and hair loss, breast cancer treatment also may cause side effects that last long after treatment ends, including neuropathy (nerve pain) and cognitive issues, also called “chemo brain,” which may affect a person’s ability to work.

Still, there are ways to take the time off from work that you need and still maintain your job and financial security.

Short- and long-term disability programs provide a percentage of your income in the event of an injury or illness that prevents you from working. Short-term disability may be granted by the state or your employer for a certain period of time, usually 3 to 6 months. When short-term disability expires, long-term disability may be approved by the federal government or your employer. Talk to your human resources department about what your company offers and to find out if you’re eligible.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to heal from a serious health condition while keeping any benefits you may have and maintaining your position with your employer. But the FMLA only covers companies that employ 50 or more people. You also must be a full-time employee and have been working at the company for at least 1 year.

Visit the Breastcancer.org pages on Breast Cancer and Your Job for more information and resources. Also, you can talk with others about how a breast cancer diagnosis affects your job in the Breastcancer.org Employment, Insurance, and Other Financial Issues Discussion Board forum.


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