They want to continue working and maintain their economic independence, but are often forced to give it up. It happens to many women with advanced breast cancer who, despite not wanting it, find themselves in the position of leaving their job even though they are still able to do it. In fact, reconciling the times of therapy and continuous monitoring with those of work, in most cases becomes a situation that is too difficult to manage. This is what emerged from a study conducted by the Breast Unit of the Champalimaud Clinical Center in Lisbon, presented in the Portuguese capital on the occasion of the Advanced Breast Cancer Seventh International Consensus Conference (ABC7). For researchers, the data highlights the urgency of intervening with more flexible employment policies, capable of allowing women affected by the disease at this stage to maintain their employment.
The results of the study
The research was conducted on 112 women who had been treated for at least six months for advanced stage breast cancer, therefore with metastases. Of these, 87% were employed at the time of diagnosis. A percentage which then decreased significantly once the therapeutic process and the visit and monitoring plan had started: only 38% of the sample, in fact, continued to work even after the diagnosis. Among the patients who found themselves in the position of leaving their jobs, some received unemployment benefits, while others were placed on leave for health reasons. For still others, retirement has been brought forward: just think that the average retirement age that emerged from the study is around 49 years. Finally, only 5% of patients said they had chosen with conviction to stop working.
by Tiziana Moriconi
The economic and psychological impact
“In addition to the major economic, psychological and social impact on the lives of patients who find themselves in such a situation, our study has also demonstrated on a national scale how the interruption of employment relationships translates into significant costs for the economy of the country – he explains Leonor Matos, research coordinator – Suffice it to say that, in Portugal alone, we have estimated a productivity loss of almost 29 million euros in three years, to which we must also add almost 3 and a half million in costs for state pensions and unemployment benefits. If, however, patients who are able to do so could continue to work – continues Matos – the cost of state subsidies for part-time work would grow to a lesser extent: we have in fact estimated an increase of almost 12 million euros in three years and consequent reduction in productivity costs amounting to just over 14 million”. In short, if work were more flexible and allowed one to follow the therapeutic path without risking losing one’s job, the Portuguese economy, according to estimates, could count on revenues equal to 2 million and 400 thousand euros every three years.
by Tiziana Moriconi
A problem also present in other parts of the world
The situation is not so different elsewhere either: the problem of patients who leave their jobs with this pathology and find themselves in financial difficulties, researchers claim, is common to most countries. The research group has in fact consulted bodies and associations on the front line in providing economic aid to women affected by metastatic breast cancer in other parts of the world. One of these is the American Infinite Strength, an organization that supports single mothers with a low income and a diagnosis of breast cancer. Over the course of six months, the association carried out an analysis of the requests for financial support received to pay the rent or mortgage. The 48 women she had contacted had been forced to reduce their working hours or leave them altogether due to the advanced stage of the disease. Over half of these were African American and all were at risk of being evicted. Thanks to the financial help, they were able to stay in their homes or find a place to live with their children. But once the financial support ran out, 28 of them once again found themselves struggling with the same difficulties as the previous six months. “The analysis highlighted the enormous financial difficulties that single mothers with metastatic breast cancer are forced to face – she comments Roberta Lombardifounder and president of Infinite Strength, also undergoing treatment for early-stage breast cancer – The numbers have shown us that it is mainly African-American women who encounter the greatest difficulties when they no longer benefit from financial support, and how it is therefore essential to extend the latter”.
by Barbara Orrico
More flexibility in working environments
If some women today are able to live longer with the disease at an advanced stage and are also able to work, it is above all thanks to progress in therapies. The treatment options and treatment objectives aim to make the disease chronic, allowing patients to live their lives and maintain their habits as much as possible.
by Tiziana Moriconi
“Thanks to scientific research and increasingly effective treatments, some women who suffer from this pathology can now take back their lives – underlines Eric P. Winer, honorary president of ABC 7 and director of the Yale Cancer Center in the United States – Therefore, they should be able to continue working if they wish, not only for their economic and psychological well-being, but also to support their families and their communities. This latter objective can only be fully achieved if more flexible work is encouraged and if discrimination is not discriminated against.”