Cancer in U.S. workers leads to productivity losses of more than 33 million disability days per year, according to a study in the December Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). Most affected: smaller companies.
Based on the average wages of the workers surveyed, disability costs due to cancer were equal to 20 percent of total healthcare expenditures.
It’s a big subject for study, given that approximately three million American workers are diagnosed with cancer each year.
Led by Grant H. Skrepnek, PhD, RPh, of The University of Arizona Cancer Center, Tucson, the researchers used a national survey of medical spending to analyze the prevalence and cost impact of cancer in working adults. Based on data from 2004 to 2008, they estimate that 3.3 million American workers are diagnosed with cancer annually.
Nearly 85 percent of the workers with cancer worked for smaller companies with fewer than 500 employees. These small-business employees had higher rates of other health problems, including high blood pressure, depression, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They were also more likely to be uninsured.
Certain types of cancers, including women's cancers and melanoma, were associated with higher burdens of illness. For breast cancer, health care costs and hospitalizations were twice as high and disability days 55 percent higher than for other cancers.
The study is one of the first to document the economic impact of cancer in the U.S. workforce. The true cost in terms of lost productivity is likely even higher than the disability days measured in the study. The authors call for further efforts to reduce the burden of illness associated with cancer and its treatment — perhaps including supportive care interventions to reduce cancer-related disability.