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CBCN Report: Financial and Workplace Impact of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Groundbreaking Canadian Research Reveals Financial and Workplace Impact of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

80 per cent of women experienced a financial impact; 16 per cent had their jobs terminated

Ottawa, ON, May 28, 2010: According to a new research report announced today at Parliament Hill by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network (CBCN), Canadian women diagnosed with breast cancer experience significant financial burdens during treatment.  Breast Cancer: Economic Impact and Labour Force Re-Entry, the first report to examine the financial and labour impacts of breast cancer, also reveals that women continue to experience unexpected hurdles when re-entering the workforce.

The data shows that 80 per cent of respondents experienced a financial impact, often with long-term financial consequences for both breast cancer patients and their families.  On average, the patient household experienced a 10 per cent drop in annual income - 44 per cent of respondents depleted their savings and retirement funds, while 27 per cent took on debt to cover treatment costs.  The Report also determined that Employment Insurance benefits covered only 15 weeks of the average treatment length of 38 weeks, thus adding to the financial burden.

Report Respondent: "We are in debt so far that I do not sleep at night and am paralyzed by fear that recurrence or metastases will make us bankrupt."

"This groundbreaking report firmly positions breast cancer as an economic as well as a health issue by highlighting the direct and
indirect costs Canadian women and their families face while battling the disease," said Cathy Ammandolea, President of CBCN.  "This report provides a timely opportunity for government officials, employers and other service providers to gain valuable insights into how breast cancer patients use existing benefits and programs," she added.

The report shows that breast cancer caused a significant disruption in labour force participation.  Out of the 81 per cent of respondents who were employed in salaried jobs at the time of diagnosis, 16 per cent had their jobs terminated while undergoing treatment and 17 per cent were unable to return to their previous job with the same title and salary. Over one-fifth (21 per cent) of respondents reported returning to work before they were fully able due to financial pressure.

Report Respondent: "I was 'let go' because my boss was concerned I wouldn't have the strength to perform duties and that I might become ill on the job. He 'was concerned for my health'."

Attitudes of employers and co-workers had a major effect on ease of re-entry, with gradually increasing workload being the most important factor in accommodating post-treatment needs. Almost half of respondents reported a reduced physical ability to work after treatment and one-fifth were forced to quit due to work-related restrictions, side effects from treatment, fatigue or pain.

"These are alarming figures. At CBCN, we recognize that women affected by breast cancer are a vital part of Canada's economy. We will continue to advocate on their behalf to facilitate their successful re-entry back into the labour force," commented Ammandolea. "A successful re-entry is good not only for the patient but for the economy; breast cancer survivors are able to contribute to national productivity instead of being dependent upon the social safety net."

Report Respondent: "The financial burden became more stressful than the cancer itself."

"This is a critical time to raise these issues," noted Marsha Davidson, Executive Director of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, the main funder for the report. "Breast cancer has a devastating effect on women's health. We need to equip Canadians with the tools necessary to balance both their health and economic needs."

Breast Cancer: Economic Impact and Labour Force Re-Entry is based on a 2009 national survey of 446 Canadians with a recent breast cancer diagnosis. Key issues identified by the report show:

  • The maximum length of Employment Insurance (EI) coverage does not reflect the full length of breast cancer treatment, with an average gap of 23 weeks without coverage
  • There are large inconsistencies in health coverage across provinces and territories, especially in the areas of cancer drug coverage, supplies and prosthetics
  • A breast cancer diagnosis caused significant disruption in labour force participation. Many women had to retire from their jobs or go on disability or medical leave

Actions for Change

In cooperation with its partners, CBCN will establish a task force that will review labour policy, insurance benefits and workplace
accommodation structures to better reflect the reality of breast cancer treatment and subsequent labour force re-entry.

Copies of Breast Cancer: Economic Impact and Labour Force Re-Entry,media kits and press photos are available at .

Local CBCN spokespeople are available in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.