Breast cancer patients are being forced out of work and “made homeless,” warned scientists calling for new labor laws.
Researchers said advanced breast cancer (ABC) is rarely cured, but many live with the condition for years and could be well enough to work in the right environment.
However, clinicians found the average age of retirement for advanced breast cancer patients is 49, and claim many of these patients are leaving “against their will.”
A total of 87 percent of patients in the study were employed when they were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer but only 38 percent stayed in their jobs.
Just five percent said it was their choice to leave work.
To get the results, doctors asked advanced breast cancer patients in Portugal about their employment history.
Supporting the European study, and suggesting the problem is international, the team spoke to frontline charities in the States.
US charity Infinite Strength offers financial support for single mothers on low incomes diagnosed with the condition.
In six months, every single one of the 48 women who applied for grants had to had to reduce their working hours or sacrifice employment because of advanced breast cancer.
Over half were African American, seven had been made homeless, and all were at risk of eviction.
Lombardi, Founder and President of Infinite Strength, who has also been treated for early-stage breast cancer, told the conference: “This work highlights the tremendous financial burden faced by single mothers living with metastatic breast cancer.
“Direct financial assistance can provide stability and support for families in this time of significant financial need.
“But the numbers also suggest that Black women are more likely to return to financial hardship and all the problems that brings once financial support is removed. This highlights the need for long-term support.”
Leaving work impacts the economy too, according to the research conducted by Advance Breast Cancer Global Alliance, the NOVA Medical School in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Breast Unit of the Champalimaud Clinical Centre, Lisbon.
In Portugal alone breast cancer costs €28,676,754 of lost productivity over three years, researchers estimate.
Over 2,000 people living with the condition in Portugal.
On top of the €28.6million bill, €3,468,866 is shelled out in state pensions and unemployment benefits every three years.
If patients were able to continue working the cost of government subsidies for part-time work would increase by €11,951,048 over three years, the team calculated.
However, they found there would be a €14,338,377 reduction in the cost of lost productivity.
Overall, the team believes supporting patients with flexible work opportunities would bring an extra €2,431,329 into the Portuguese economy every three years.
Speaking at the Advanced Breast Cancer Seventh International Consensus Conference, Dr. Leonor Matos from the Breast Unit at the Champalimaud Clinical Centre, said: “The symptoms of advanced breast cancer and the burden of ongoing monitoring and treatment can make it harder for patients to hold down a job.
“But leaving employment often brings financial, social and mental health costs for patients. We wanted to study the economic impact of this problem at the country scale.
“This research has allowed us to quantify how many ABC patients are lost from the workplace, even though they would prefer to keep working.
“It also shows us how much is lost to the economy when this happens and conversely how much financial gain could be made by creating the right conditions to allow people to continue working.
“We know that the loss of employment may derive largely from the lack of willingness or policies to accommodate patients’ needs, such as flexible work arrangements.
“Changing labor laws to give extra support and protection to people with all types of advanced cancer could bring enormous benefits to society as a whole.”
The team picked 112 working-age people who had been treated for advanced breast cancer for at least six months.
Patients receive care at one of nine Portuguese hospitals and were asked about their pre-diagnosis work life.
Supporting research was carried out in America.
Professor Eric Winer is an Honorary Chair of ABC 7 and Director of the Yale Cancer Center, USA and was not involved in the research. He said: “Thanks to improvements in treatment, people with advanced breast cancer are living longer, healthier lives.
“People with ABC should be able to continue working if they want to, not only for their own financial and mental wellbeing but also to support their families and their communities.
“Employers have a critical role to play in ensuring that people with cancer are not discriminated against in the workplace.
“They should provide the appropriate setting to help people with cancer fulfill their job responsibilities.
“However, this can only be fully achieved with government support to provide patients with adjusted and flexible working options.
“For single mothers, the burden of advanced breast cancer, combined with the responsibility of providing for and caring for a family, can be even greater.
“Women in this situation may need extra support to ensure their quality of life is as good as it can be.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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