Social welfare and legal constraints associated with work among breast and prostate cancer survivors: experiences from Ireland

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Around 40% of cancer survivors are of working age. We investigated employment outcomes among survivors in Ireland where sick leave and sick pay are at the employers' discretion and the law affords no protection against dismissal following extended absence.


A questionnaire was mailed to 1,373 survivors, identified from the National Cancer Registry, 6-24 months post-diagnosis. The analysis included breast and prostate cancer respondents who were working at diagnosis. Factors associated with work continuation post-diagnosis and work resumption after cancer-related absence were identified using logistic regression.


The response rate was 54%. Three hundred forty-six respondents were working at diagnosis (breast cancer = 246; prostate cancer = 100). Sixty-two (18%) continued working post-diagnosis. Factors significantly associated with work continuation were: self-employment, prostate cancer, lower pre-diagnosis household income, and not having surgery. Two hundred eighty-four took time off work post-diagnosis; of these, 51 (18%) had left the workforce, 187 (66%) had resumed working, and 46 (16%) planned to resume working. Factors significantly associated with work resumption were: tertiary education, not having chemotherapy, receiving sick pay, and not having a medical card (which provides free access to public health services). Among those who resumed working, the median absence was 30.1 weeks (inter-quartile range = 12.9-51.6). The length of absence varied significantly by socio-demographic, financial, medical, and job- and social welfare-related factors. Median working hours pre- and post-diagnosis differed significantly (pre-diagnosis = 38/week; post-diagnosis = 30/week; p<0.001).


The high level of workforce departure and associations between self-employment, sick pay and medical cards, and employment outcomes suggest that social welfare and legal provisions are important determinants of the survivors' workforce participation.

Implications for survivors

In formulating strategies to optimise survivors' employment outcomes, it is important that policy- and decision-makers are aware of the influence of social welfare and legal provisions.

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