Among working women with newly diagnosed breast cancer, those treated with chemotherapy appear more likely to experience a major change in work status, study findings suggest.

By contrast, radiation therapy was not associated with a similar risk, Dr. Michael J. Hassett, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and colleagues report in the journal Cancer.

Hassett's team used a large health insurance claim database to identify 3233 insured women, younger than 64 years old, who were working full or part time when first diagnosed with breast cancer between 1998 and 2002.

Overall, about 54 percent underwent chemotherapy and 58 percent underwent radiation therapy.

Most of the women did "not experience a significant change in their employment after cancer diagnosis and treatment," Hassett told Reuters Health.

However, of the 6.6 percent who did have a change in work status, those receiving chemotherapy had 1.8-fold greater risk of leaving work, retiring, or going on long-term disability over the subsequent year, he and colleagues found.

Of the women who experienced a change in employment during the year after their diagnosis, 67 percent went from full-time work to early retirement. The rest went from full-time employment to long-term disability, retirement, or their status was unknown.

When the investigators allowed for factors associated with employment status, such as type of breast cancer, treatment, and health insurance plan, plus region, age, and other medical conditions, only chemotherapy treatment and older age were associated with greater risk of a change in employment.

"Most of the women in our study worked for large employers that sponsored health insurance programs for their employees," Hassett added. He and colleagues call for further investigations to assess the impact cancer diagnosis and treatments have on women who work for smaller companies or are self-employed.