Economic hardship brought on by cancer diagnosis

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Yvette Brazier


When American adults, especially men, are diagnosed with cancer, they experience significant decreases in income due to reduced employment and number of hours worked, according to a new report published in the journal Cancer.


remains one of the most prominent public health concerns in the US, and the hardships for patients and families extend beyond health and survival.

Survivors face challenges ranging from economic difficulties to reduced health-related quality of life and psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety.

Previous studies have estimated the annual loss of productivity somewhere between $9.6-$16 billion among working-age adults. With 13 million plus adult cancer survivors in the US, this represents a significant impact.

Economic hardship results from reduced or discontinued employment. Studies have shown that 24-94% of survivors continue working or return to work after treatment, depending on cancer type and stage and time since diagnosis, among other factors.

Even when the decline in employment or working hours is negligible, detrimental effects on employment and a drop in income appear to be generalized.

In the US about 50% of low-income Hispanic women with breast cancer have reported income concerns and financial stress.

10% less chance of work and 20% drop in family income

Dr. Anna Zajacova, PhD, of the University of Wyoming in Laramie, and colleagues studied data from 1999-2009 involving nearly 17,000 people, of whom 1,117 had been diagnosed with cancer, to estimate the impact of the diagnosis on employment, hours worked, individual income and total family income.

For diagnosed cancer patients, the chance of working dropped by almost 10% and hours worked declined by up to 200 hours – or about 5 weeks of full-time work – in the first year. Earnings dropped by almost 40% within 2 years after diagnosis and remained low. Total family income fell 20%, although it recovered within 5 years after diagnosis.

This recovery may have been due to the survivor or their spouse working more hours, a result of disability benefits or possibly other relatives such as adult children contributing their income to the family total.

Male survivors suffered greater losses than females, for whom the losses tended to be insignificant, possibly because women are less likely to be in full-time employment or that certain types of cancer or treatment affect men’s ability to work more extensively, especially in more physically demanding jobs.

The team concludes that a cancer diagnosis has substantial effects on the economic well-being of affected adults and their families.

Dr. Zajacova says:

“Fifteen million American adults are cancer survivors, and American families need economic support while they are dealing with the rigors of cancer treatment.

Our paper suggests that families where an adult, especially a working-age male, is diagnosed with cancer suffer short-term and long-term declines in their economic well-being. We need to improve workplace and insurance safety nets so families can focus on dealing with the cancer treatment rather than deal with the financial and employment fallout.”

Within a decade, the US is expected to have 18 million cancer survivors. As cancer increasingly changes from a terminal illness to a chronic disease, it becomes more important to understand how its diagnosis and treatment affect the economic well-being of patients and their families.

The team calls for closer examination of the long-term implications of cancer and ways to relieve the economic hardship associated with it.