Symptom control may help metastatic cancer patients stay on the job: study

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Photo: Jodi Jacobson/iStockphoto

Madison, WI – Advancements in symptom control may help cancer patients whose cancer has spread continue to work, according to a recent study from the University of Wisconsin.

Researchers examined work changes of 668 patients with metastatic cancer – a type of cancer that spreads from its initial location to another spot in the body – from the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group’s “Symptom Outcomes and Practice Patterns” study. They found that although more than one-third of people with metastatic cancer keep working after diagnosis, “a heavy burden of symptoms” that include fatigue, nerve pain, drowsiness and memory difficulties can prevent them from staying on the job, lead study author Amye Tevaarwerk, assistant professor in the university’s department of medicine, told Safety+Health magazine.

Of the patients, 58 percent said their employment changed because of their illness and 45 percent stopped working. However, 35 percent worked full- or part-time. Of potentially changeable factors, receiving hormonal treatment and reducing “symptom interference” were linked to continuing to work, according to the study abstract.

Type of cancer, type of treatment, and time since diagnosis did not have an impact on work. “It’s something we can potentially think about exploring further,” Tevaarwerk said. “It may not matter what kind of metastatic disease you have or where it is, if we’re controlling the disease or the symptoms from that disease, then you can continue working if you want or need to. If I don’t have symptoms from it and I otherwise feel good, then I can work if I want to or have to – which in some ways for us was a very positive finding because that’s something we can potentially develop interventions to do with existing tools.”

The study was published online Dec. 21 in the journal Cancer.