Breast cancer patients suffer considerable wage losses in first year after diagnosis

February 26, 2008

Canadian women diagnosed with early breast cancer lose, on average, more than a quarter of their typical income during the first 12 months after their diagnosis, according to a study published online February 26 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Although a number of studies have assessed the economic impact of breast cancer on the healthcare system, few studies have examined the impact the disease has on the financial status of patients and their families.

In the current study, Elizabeth Maunsell, Ph.D., of Laval University in Quebec City and colleagues interviewed 829 women in Quebec who had recently been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. During the course of three interviews, scheduled at one, six, and 12 months after treatment began, the researchers asked the participants about their working status prior to diagnosis, the amount of time absent from work due to breast cancer, and the different types of compensation received during their absence from work, such as payments from sick leave and other forms of disability insurance. Finally, the investigators asked women about their perceptions of their financial situation and whether these perceptions had changed for the worse 12 months after diagnosis.

Of the 800 women who completed all three interviews, 459 had paying jobs at the time of diagnosis. Among the 403 women who had an absence or reduced hours of work, the researchers found that, on average, the women lost 27 percent of the wages they would have earned in the 12 months following their diagnosis had they not been ill, even after all other forms of compensation had been taken into account. Ten percent of the women lost more than two-thirds of their income.

The percentage of annual wages lost varied considerably in the study population. The women who were more likely to suffer large wage losses were less educated, lived farther from the hospital where they underwent treatment, had more serious disease, had less social support, required chemotherapy, or were self-employed, worked part-time or were recently hired at their current job.

"Overall, these findings point to wage losses from breast cancer in Canada as an important adverse consequence of this disease," the authors write. "These findings should sensitize clinicians to the real extent to which wage losses resulting from breast cancer can substantially and negatively affect the financial situation of working women and their families."
Contact: Jean Hamann,, (418) 656-7266

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