Medical advances are enabling more cancer patients to return to work after treatment, but not without difficulties. Many face pay cuts and struggle to cover medical bills or living costs, according to a recent survey of working cancer patients by Lifenet Insurance Co.
Conducted in June, the national survey of 566 patients found that the respondents’ annual income was slashed by 20 percent on average to ¥3.32 million from ¥4.15 million.
Fifty-six percent, or 319 in the survey, said their annual salary was reduced. Of that total, 18 percent said they lost all income after their diagnosis.
Taking leave, reducing workloads and changing jobs were cited as reasons for salary cuts.
Dispatch workers saw the sharpest drop at 39 percent, followed by part-time workers at 29 percent and full-time workers at 18 percent.
“It’s a huge issue for cancer patients,” Yumiko Hara, a spokeswoman at Lifenet, told The Japan Times on Thursday. “Their incomes were cut, as they had to reduce their workloads and change the ways they worked — at the same time needing money to pay for necessities like medical bills.”
More than 50 percent of respondents said they struggled to cover medical expenses along with costs of basic living. Among those with children, 43 percent said they struggled with educational expenses, and some had asked their children to give up after-school lessons.
“After I returned to work — in order to reduce my workload — I asked to be reassigned and to change the number of working days,” a man in his 50s said in the poll. “But in reality, only my salary was cut while my workload stayed the same and my burden increased. I had no choice but to quit.”
Forty-three percent of respondents said their companies did not have support systems, such as special leave for treatment or shorter working hours.
Many respondents urged companies to work to raise awareness about cancer — which is estimated to affect half of the population in Japan during their lifetimes — and to create flexible arrangements where survivors can continue to be productive.
“I want people to understand that even though I finished treatment and returned to work, I still need to go to a hospital regularly,” a woman in her 20s said in the poll. “I believe we could continue to work if there was more awareness of those things, and if we were able to reduce working hours or take a half-days off to go to hospitals without hesitation.”
“I want more people to know cancer is not something immediately liked to death,” a dispatch worker in her 20s said.
According to the National Cancer Center, the five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with cancer in 2008 stood at 65.3 percent, up from 64.3 the previous year.
About a third of the nation’s cancer patients between the ages of 15 and 64 are in the working population, according to 2012 health ministry data. In 2010, about 325,000 cancer patients were working, according to a government estimate.