Colorectal Cancer Patients Have Low Job Retention After Diagnosis


Nearly 40% of US employees have no access to paid sick leave.

After a colorectal cancer diagnosis, patients may experience low rates of job retention, according to a research letter published in JAMA.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Health System conducted telephone follow up calls with 567 employed stage III colorectal cancer patients to examine the link between access to paid sick leave and job retention and personal financial burden among this patient population.

The researchers reported that nearly 40% of US employees have no access to paid sick leave, although they believe it could reduce the need for unpaid sick time used during colorectal cancer treatment periods.

Job retention was defined as employment at both diagnosis and survey completion (approximately eight months after diagnosis) combined with a negative response to the questions “I changed/ quit/ lost my job.” The patients who responded to the interview were 58% men, 68% white, 28% of the patients had less than a high school education, about a third reported household income of less than $50,000, and nearly half had access to paid sick leave.

Patients with and without access to paid leave reported significant differences among their personal financial burden:

  • 28% vs. 18% borrowed money, respectively
  • 29% vs. 14% had difficulties making credit card payments, respectively
  • 50% vs. 35% reduced spending on food and clothing, respectively; and
  • 57% vs. 47% reduced recreational spending, respectively

“Financial burden happens in a lot of different ways,” study author Christine Veenstra, MD, MSHP explained in a press release. “There are costs we can measure, like how much patients pay for prescriptions or doctor visits. Then there are unmeasured costs of cancer care: Did the patient take unpaid time off from work and lose paychecks? Or worse, were they unable to return to work after cancer treatment.”

A little more than half of the patients (55%) retained their jobs. The remaining patient groups were newly disabled (26%), retired (7%), or unemployed (8%). The patients had higher levels of education, were more likely to have a higher annual income, private health insurance, and access to paid sick leave.

“Paid sick leave can really support working Americans who have cancer or other issues as they go through their treatment,” Veenstra concluded. “It may help patients retain their jobs and alleviate the financial strain associated with cancer treatment.”

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