CBC News | September 30, 2014

Cancer survivors see a $5,000 drop in income, on average, a year after their diagnosis, according to a new report by Statistics Canada.

Tuesday's report linked census, cancer registry and vital statistics databases with personal income tax records to evaluate the effects of cancer on employment status and earnings.

As earlier diagnoses, improvements in cancer treatment and better followup care have substantially increased the number of cancer survivors in the last 20 years, economists have become interested in the effects of cancer on the labour market, the agency said.

Overall, the findings suggest that in the long run, cancer is more likely to affect survivors' work status than their earnings.

The researchers weren't able to access data on the type of cancer or its stage. But they grouped the malignancies into those with high, medium and low survival rates.

"We found that these negative effects on employment and annual earnings are larger and longer lasting for individuals diagnosed with cancer with lower survival rates," said Sung-Hee Jeon of the agency's social analysis and modelling division in Ottawa.

On average, cancer survivors earned $5,079, or 12.1 per cent, less one year after diagnosis than their counterparts who were never diagnosed with the disease. 

Cancer lowered the probability of working in the first year after diagnosis by three percentage points on average compared with the other group in the sample.

The effects continued but lessened in the second and third years after diagnosis.

Employees may work fewer hours after cancer treatment as they recover. Others may switch jobs to something less stressful and perhaps lower paying.

"We find cancer patients are forced into situations where they have to choose between their treatment or their income, and that's not acceptable," said Lauren Dobson-Hughes of the Canadian Cancer Society.

The society would like to see an increase in sickness benefits beyond 15 weeks and an increase in the amount that's provided beyond 55 per cent of salary. There's also currently a two-week waiting period for EI, which Dobson-Hughes said isn't sustainable for many patients.