Fear of losing their jobs and limited sick pay is forcing some cancer patients to return to work six months after treatment, a new study reveals.
A study of 264 Irish workers diagnosed with head and neck cancers between 1994 and 2011 – including lip and mouth cancer and cancers of the larnyx and pharnyx – found that close to 60pc of those who survived the disease returned to work within six months of their diagnosis and treatment.
The academic paper, published in the current issue of the Journal of Cancer Survivorship by researchers at the National Cancer Registry, found that 58pc of participants in the survey were able to return to work in some capacity.
But their reasons for doing so were varied.
Patients who did not hold medical cards at the time of diagnosis were two-and-a-half times more likely to return to work than those with medical cards while those who were self-employed or held private health insurance were also twice as likely as their fellow patients to return to work.
Those with cancers of the lip, mouth and salivary gland were also more likely to return to work compared with those suffering from cancer of the pharynx while their age, occupation and type of treatment they received, ie, radiation for early stages and chemotherapy for later stages, also played a role.
But personal finances and job security also appear to be determining factors for 52pc of participants who returned to work on reduced or part-time hours following their diagnosis and treatment.
"The limited provisions in Ireland for sick leave and protection from dismissal due to illness may mean individuals are more likely to attempt to return to work part-time rather than take extended periods of leave due to illness than in countries where greater social provision or legal protections may be in place," the researchers found.
One of the study's authors, Alison Pearce, said the survey found that working following successful cancer treatment was not just a protection from "financial distress" but that it "contributes to an individual's sense of self and quality of life."
But the study also notes that whether they are in paid employment or unpaid domestic roles, "it is possible that their performance in the workplace is reduced due to physical, cognitive or psycho-social factors following their diagnosis and treatment", and that "flexibility in the workplace (is needed) to encourage workforce participation."