Cancer Patients Face Employment Stigma and Financial Concerns

doctor patient

A cancer diagnosis can be very restricting for those patients who are working and employed. 

According to a recent report by Forbes, two studies conducted by oncology investigators discovered that both cancer patients and cancer survivors are experiencing job or lifestyle-related hindrances.

Most cancer patients worry about losing their job, earning a lower salary, or going through debt while dealing with the disease.

Due to stigma placed on cancer, some even find themselves retiring earlier than expected.

However, the biggest concern for cancer patients are medical expenses and financial burdens.

A survey presented at the 2014 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium in Boston, Mass., questioned 174 eligible respondents about their cancer-related expenses. Exactly 89 percent reported that they cope with their sickness financially through lifestyle and medical care modifications.

This includes:

  • Ditching tests and appointments.
  • Spending less on medications.
  • Avoiding unnecessary leisure expenses.
  • Having family members pull more work for them.
  • Selling personal belongings and possessions.

From a statistical standpoint, at least 78 percent reported that they minimized the amount of money they spent on leisure activities, 15 percent admitted that they had a family member working for them, and nearly 40 percent said they altered their medical care expenses.

In the same instance, another study interviewed 18 to 65-year-old cancer patients and survivors about financial concerns and job-related adjustments. 

Out of the 1600 people surveyed, the findings determined: 

  • 27 percent of survivors have either filed for bankruptcy or incurred debt in some way. Usually, these same patients resort to borrowing money to alleviate their financial issues.
  • 37 percent of survivors reportedly have taken unpaid leave, transitioned to a less demanding job, or delayed retirement—affecting their careers immensely. 

Employment modifications typically affect those in severe health conditions or going through active treatment, including non-whites and women.

Women in particular have apparently experienced significant collateral damages when it comes to employment.

In 2013, at least one out of ten women with breast cancer were victims of employment discrimination, according to one report.

Most employers terminate a worker’s position if they assume the person is showing signs of unproductivity.

An employer may dismiss an employee with breast cancer for security reasons pertaining to employment recession. If a person’s sickness causes negative effects on the company’s performance as a whole, then the employer may end all relations with the worker.

Deputy Director Lino Tellez of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination says that it’s best for companies to seek advice prior to making a decision to terminate a person’s job.

“Companies are forgetting that diseases can be caused by external factors,” Tellez said. “And that every employee reacts differently to treatment. It does not mean that the worker will be less productive and therefore discrimination should not be there.”

Employers should also be aware that discharging a worker with cancer could lead to a lawsuit under the basis of “unfair dismissal.”

Therefore, Tellez suggests that companies demonstrate more compassion and consideration by providing reasonable scheduling and workload to employees who suffer from cancer.

Overall, job security and financial debt seem to be major concerns for cancer patients.

For most people battling with the disease, reducing excessive spending or implementing lifestyle changes is the only way to cope with these fears.