How young women fare in the workforce after a cancer diagnosis

Women who were diagnosed with cancer as adolescents or young adults can be especially vulnerable to disruptions in their employment, according to findings published in Cancer, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

The findings are based on surveys with 1,328 young women in North Carolina and California who were diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 15 and 39 and were employed at the time of their cancer diagnosis. Surveys were conducted a median of seven years after diagnosis.

Results show 32 percent of the women stopped working or worked fewer hours after their cancer diagnosis. Twenty-seven percent of women reported that they had to borrow money, go into debt or file for bankruptcy because of their cancer treatment. Women with disrupted employment had a 17-percentage point higher prevalence of reporting financial hardship than women who did not stop working or worked fewer hours post-diagnosis.

Half of women in the study reported psychological distress about having to pay large medical bills related to their cancer treatment; women with disrupted employment had an 8-percentage point higher prevalence of reporting this than women without disrupted employment.

The study's lead author, Clare Meernik, MPH, with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the findings "highlight the need for effective interventions to promote job maintenance and transition back to the workforce after cancer treatment, as well as increased workplace accommodations and benefits, to improve cancer outcomes for young women."

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