As well as the enormous physical and emotional burdens cancer holds, the disease often takes its toll financially, causing many patients to leave employment. But a new study suggests the financial burden of cancer could be alleviated if patients receive paid sick leave.

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Researchers say paid sick leave could increase the likelihood of job retention for cancer patients and lessen the financial burden.

Published in JAMA, the study found that cancer patients who received paid sick leave from their jobs were much more likely to retain employment following treatment and have less financial worry than those without paid sick leave.

At present, around 40% of employees in America do not receive paid sick leave; it is not mandated under the Family and Medical Leave Act and Affordable Care Act, and paid sick leave does not form a part of health insurance coverage.

However, study coauthor Dr. Christine Veenstra, clinical lecturer at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, notes paid sick leave could help ease financial problems experienced by many cancer patients.

“Paid sick leave allows patients to take the time they need for cancer treatment but still keep getting a paycheck,” notes Dr. Veenstra.

For their study, the team set out to assess the job retention and personal financial burden of 1,300 patients who had been diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer.

Through surveys that were mailed to the patients and follow-up telephone calls, the researchers gathered information on their employment, access to paid sick leave and the personal financial circumstances 4 months before cancer treatment and 12 months after.

Among 567 of the respondents who were employed, 56% had access to paid sick leave.

The researchers found that only 55% of patients who were employed at the time of cancer diagnosis retained their jobs after cancer treatment; those who received paid sick leave, however, were almost twice as likely to have kept their jobs as those without paid sick leave.

After adjusting for influential factors, such as income, health insurance and education, the team found only 33% of patients without paid sick leave retained their jobs, compared with 59% of those who received paid sick leave.

As well as having access to paid sick leave, patients who kept their jobs were also more likely to be male, white, married, more highly educated, have a higher income, have private health insurance and be free of other illness.

What is more, compared with patients who had access to paid sick leave, those who did not receive paid sick leave had a much higher financial burden; they were more likely to have difficulties making credit card payments, for example, and were more likely to have reduced spending on food and clothing and recreational activities.

The team believes their findings indicate paid sick leave may be of significant benefit to employees diagnosed with serious health problems. Dr. Veenstra says:

Paid sick leave can really support working Americans who have cancer or other issues as they go through their treatment. It may help patients retain their jobs and alleviate the financial strain associated with cancer treatment.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting most cancer cases are caused by lifestyle behaviors and environmental factors, opposing previous research that claimed most cases are caused by “bad luck.”