Returning to work after head and neck cancer

A new paper published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship by researchers at the National Cancer Registry investigates the patterns of return to work in people with head and neck cancer.

The study looked at people diagnosed with head and neck cancer who had been working at the time of diagnosis.  It found that while most people (77%) took some time off work for treatment and recovery, over half of people (58%) eventually did return to work after their diagnosis. The average time taken off work was 9 months, but a small group of people were absent for more than a year before they returned to work. Factors such as the type of cancer, type of treatment and type of work someone had all influenced chances of returning to work after head and neck cancer.

This is the first study to provide estimates of the proportion of people who take time off work following a diagnosis of head and neck cancer and the findings are important for patients, clinicians and employers.

Working contributes to an individual’s sense of self and quality of life, as well as protecting against financial distress, therefore it is important that head and neck cancer survivors are aware that return to work is possible, but may take an extended period of time.

Clinicians need to be aware that patients’ future workforce participation should be considered from the time of diagnosis and may continue to be an issue during and beyond the period of rehabilitation. Policy makers and employers need to be aware that flexibility is required in the workplace to accommodate longer term effects following head and neck cancer, as may be occupational rehabilitation.

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