For some cancer patients, work is the best medicine

A diagnosis of a life-altering medical condition is never a walk in the park. How people react to that diagnosis, though, may play a significant role in their recovery — especially for often-stigmatized diseases such as cancer. New research suggests that returning to work may be just what the doctor ordered.


Nearly 80 percent of cancer patients and survivors say continuing at a job after diagnosis helps in recovery, according to a survey of 400 employed workers diagnosed with cancer. The survey was sponsored by Cancer and Careers, a nonprofit organization serving people who work during and after cancer treatment.

Results indicate that several factors motivate cancer survivors to continue working, including feeling well, wanting to maintain a routine and wanting to be productive.

At the same time, 67 percent of surveyed cancer patients and survivors said work/life balance was critical for a career.

The issue affects a large number of workers in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, there were 13.7 million Americans with a history of cancer as of Jan. 1, 2012. And approximately 750,000 new cancer diagnoses are expected among working-age people this year, reinforcing the importance of understanding the needs of the working patient.

More than half (60 percent) of survey respondents reported taking no time off or only a few days off before returning to work after diagnosis.

Those newly diagnosed or currently in treatment were most eager to continue working. Almost three-quarters (73 percent) felt employment gave them a sense of purpose and was tied to their identity.

However, approximately 20 percent of those who were newly diagnosed or currently in treatment said that cancer prevented them from carrying out professional responsibilities, reaching their true potential or performing at the same level as their peers.

"For today's cancer patient, diagnosis occurs earlier, drugs are more targeted and the stigma around the disease has decreased," Kate Sweeney, executive director of Cancer and Careers, told BusinessNewsDaily.

"The survey confirmed what we knew anecdotally, that survivors, if they are able to, are eager to get back to work after a cancer diagnosis. In fact, the majority of people surveyed felt that their cancer recovery was aided by the routine nature of work, and that getting support on maintaining work-life balance during this time is critical."

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