When faced with a breast cancer diagnosis, working women must make important life decisions related to their cancer treatment and employment situation. These decisions may be particularly hard for women working low-wage jobs recognized for poor quality (i.e., high job demands, low supervisor support, inflexible schedules) and limited employee benefits such as health insurance and paid sick leave. Breast cancer in combination with these tenuous employment circumstances creates challenges that may negatively influence receipt of prescribed breast cancer care, work productivity, and long-term employment outcomes among working poor patients. For example, these women may continue working during active treatment, which may lead to treatment-work conflicts whereby women may forgo, delay, or are non-adherent to prescribed care. Or, they may adopt work-treatment fit strategies that negatively influence their overall health, performance at work or long-term employment. Yet, there is limited research that addresses this public health concern. To address this gap, Dr. Swanberg and Dr. Robin Vanderpool from the University of Kentucky are engaged in a number of pilot studies on this topic. Two of the studies are described below.
The first study, Cancer, Employment and Low-wage Work, examined the work-life experiences of Kentucky breast cancer survivors employed in low-wage jobs during breast cancer diagnosis. Interviews were conducted with 24 breast cancer survivors who were diagnosed with breast cancer within the past 3 years and employed in a low-wage hourly position at the time of diagnosis. Qualitative data are being analyzed and prepared for publication.
The second study, Breast Cancer Treatment Disparities among the Working Poor, aims to assess the influence of employment context on receipt of prescribed breast cancer treatment among survivors across the wage spectrum, with a focus on women classified as working poor. The study seeks to determine whether there are differences in rates of receipt of prescribed breast cancer treatment between working poor and working non-poor breast cancer patients, and to what extent employment characteristics explain the differences in treatment receipt rates taking into consideration other factors such as demographics, cancer related and psychosocial factors. A comparison between these 2 groups allows us to identify the employment conditions that may facilitate/inhibit treatment, and to develop interventions to address the problem.