Five years after being diagnosed with cancer, patients who are employed struggle with their ability to work, with sociodemographic factors explaining more of the variance in absenteeism than clinical factors.

Data from 2,008 persons in Norway, aged 18 to 61 years, who had received their first diagnosis of invasive cancer in 1999 and were alive in 2004, were compared with data from a control group of 3,240 cancer-free individuals. Sick leave was defined as at least one sick-leave period of more than 16 days within the year in question.

Investigators Steffen Torp, of Vestfold University College in Tønsberg, Norway, and colleagues found that a total of 75% of the long-term cancer survivors took sick leave within the first 12 months after diagnosis. Over the following 4 years, approximately 23% of male survivors and 31% of female survivors took sick leave. By comparison, approximately 18% of the male controls and 27% of the female controls took sick leave during that time.

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Factors predicting sick leave taken in 2004, 5 years after diagnosis, were:

  • being single with children
  • having a low level of education
  • working in the health and social-work sector
  • having taken sick leave in 1998, the year before diagnosis.

The authors concluded that long-term cancer survivors may struggle with health impairments or reduced work ability 5 years after diagnosis. “A socioeconomic and work environmental perspective seems necessary for occupational rehabilitation and the health and safety of cancer survivors, in order to reduce the rate of sick leave in this group,” they wrote in Journal of Cancer Survivorship.