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Breast Cancer Patients Given Chemo More Likely To Lose Jobs

A survey of breast cancer survivors showed nearly a third were no longer employed after four years, with chemo patients facing the highest risk.
Posted at 7:26 PM, Apr 28, 2014

The side effects of chemotherapy are pretty widely known: nausea, fatigue and the trademark hair loss. But for women diagnosed with breast cancer, there might be another side effect to consider: long-term unemployment.

A study published in the journal Cancer surveyed working-age breast cancer survivors four years after they were diagnosed and asked if they were still working. 

The results weren't encouraging. Nearly a third of the respondents were unemployed, and those who had received chemo as opposed to other treatments like radiation therapy were the most likely to be out of work. The study doesn't identify a cause, but hints at cognitive impairments as one possible culprit.

Patients receiving chemo have long complained of failing memory, trouble concentrating and a general mental fogginess that's come to be known as chemo brain — a condition that, in some, never truly reverses after treatment. (Via American Cancer Society, Mayo Clinic, CancerCare)

"I just forget a lot. ... Sometimes, when I'm reading — I do a lot of reading and research — I kind of forget what I just read, kind of like the comprehension thing." (Via Oncology Associates)

Fatigue might be another culprit. NBC interviewed one breast cancer survivor whose says chemotherapy left her too tired to work at her home remodeling business.

The study's lead author, University of Michigan's Reshma Jagsi, says the findings are something for doctors to keep in mind when treating a patient who would get little benefit from chemo.

"Many doctors believe that even though patients may miss work during treatment, they will 'bounce back' in the longer term. The results of this study suggest otherwise." (Via CBS)

A writer for Bustle says the risk of long-term unemployment will no doubt weigh on doctors, but "It's not as if you get much choice in the matter — if chemotherapy is really what you need from a medically-informed perspective, then chemotherapy should be what you get."

The study joins earlier research showing cancer survivors in general are at higher risk for unemployment.