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One Third of Patients with Incurable Cancer Work, Study Says

Update Date: Dec 21, 2015 04:24 PM EST

A third of people diagnosed with incurable cancer continue to work, a new study found. According to the researchers, these patients tend to work until they physically cannot anymore.

For this study, the researchers headed by Dr. Amye Tevaarwert, an oncologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, analyzed data taken from a cancer research project, the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group's "Symptom Outcomes and Practice Patterns (SOAPP)," which included more than 3,000 patients who were diagnosed with breast, prostate, colon or lung cancer.

The team focused on 668 patients who were of working age and found that 35 percent of them - 236 patients - held full-time or part-time jobs.

"This is a fairly high number," Tevaarwerk said reported by HealthDay via the U.S. News and World Report. "These patients, who might have a life expectancy between a year and five years, continue to be gainfully employed."

Trevaarwerk added that the leading factor that caused people to stop working was "a high symptom burden." The other factors that they looked at was gender, type of tumor, location of tumor and more.

The researchers noted since symptoms affected work the most, they recommended that doctors focus more on how to better manage them in patients who express a desire to continue working.

"Efforts to control symptoms may enable more patients to achieve this particular goal, and further research is needed to help us understand what other resources would benefit metastatic patients continuing to work." Trevaarwerk said according to the press release.

Although the researchers did not find the reasons behind why incurable cancer patients would choose to work, Trevaarwerk stated that some straightforward explanations could be money and access to health insurance. Other possibilities included "a source of social support, a distraction from their health problems, and a sense of normalcy in their lives."

Trevaarwerk concluded, "It's going to be a complicated mix."

Corinne Leach of the American Cancer Society agreed with the researchers, stating, "Working can be a good thing for people. It can be helpful financially, but also in terms of identity and remaining active. Some people may stop working so they can spend more time with their family or travel, but others may have renewed energy to tackle some issue at work that they want to complete while they still can."

The study's findings were published in the journal, Cancer.

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