News & Commentary

The Intersection of Work and Cancer: A Critical Survivorship Issue

May 10, 2017
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When you think about work, many things come to mind:

  • A paycheck
  • Benefits
  • Security
  • Community
  • Passion
  • Identity

When you think about cancer, many things also come to mind – too many to mention. The problem was that for a long time, people weren’t thinking about work and cancer together. Generally, the focus after a diagnosis was solely on living.  But advancements in medicine in the last 15+ years have created an ever-growing population of survivors, making the concept of survivorship mainstream, and paving the way for robust conversations about the role of work after a diagnosis. 

The ability to manage employment, both during and after treatment, can be complex depending on several factors. Regular doctors’ appointments, long-term treatment side effects, relationships with employers and co-workers and financial concerns are just some of the challenges that people may confront, but research shows that patients/survivors want to continue working. Doing so can be an important part of the recovery process, but employees need support to balance work and health demands.

Recent statistics highlight the importance and relevance of this issue:

  • Nearly 50 percent of cancer survivors are of “working age.” [1]
  • 20 percent of cancer survivors still report work limitations related to their cancer 1-5 years’ post-diagnosis. [2]
  • Cancer survivors are 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed than individuals without health concerns. [3]
  • In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 890 cancer discrimination claims; 3.2 percent of overall disability claims. [4]

Cancer and Careers was founded in 2001, in response to the growing recognition that there was no guidance, services or resources for working people with cancer. We are the only national non-profit with a mission to educate and empower people with cancer to thrive in their work environments by providing expert advice, interactive tools and educational events to patients, survivors and health care professionals.

Of course, to fully address the spectrum of work and cancer issues, it is essential to have employers recognize (and support) the unique needs their employees are facing following a diagnosis. To further engage this critical stakeholder, we joined forces with Anthem, Inc., Pfizer and the US Business Leadership Network to establish Workplace Transitions for People Touched by Cancer, a free Web-based toolkit designed to help employers support their employees’ productive return to work after a cancer diagnosis, while complementing existing company policies.  Workplace Transitions was created from the knowledge that employers are an essential piece of the work and cancer puzzle and the recognition that collaboration among the right companies and organizations was needed to turn that knowledge into real solutions. When implemented, the program can make a positive impact on all employees as it aims to improve retention, productivity and morale.

Although issues around work and cancer are receiving more attention now, there is still more to be done to support people during every phase of treatment and recovery. As Cancer and Careers looks ahead, our goals remain to provide thought-leadership, advocacy and expertise so that the more than 15 million survivors in the U.S. can continue to be vital and valued members of the workforce.

For further information about Cancer and Careers, please visit


[1] Stergiou-Kita, M., Pritlove, C., Holness, D.L. et al. J Cancer Surviv (2016) 10: 699. doi:10.1007/s11764-016-0516-9

[2] de Moor, J. S. (2010), Work and Cancer Survivors. Edited by Michael Feuerstein. Springer, New York, 2009. No. of pages: 350. ISBN 978-0-387-72040-1. Psycho-Oncology, 19: 332–333. doi: 10.1002/pon.1634

[3] de Boer AGEM, Taskila TK, Tamminga SJ, Frings-Dresen MHW, Feuerstein M, Verbeek JH. Interventions to enhance return-to-work for cancer patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD007569. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007569.pub2.

[4] Retrieved April 11, 2017, from

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