Finding flexible work difficult for cancer patients and caregivers

Categories: In The Media.

A 2013 Léger national survey of cancer patients and their caregivers, commissioned by Sanofi Canada, sheds new light on the striking financial, decision-making and emotional burden the disease puts on cancer patients and their caregivers. The survey finds that 18% of patients experience difficulty in finding flexible work options while battling cancer, while 49% of all caregivers also struggle to integrate caring for loved ones into their work schedules.

Surveyed caregivers said that, in addition to being a source of financial stress, cancer caregiving took a toll on their lifestyle and emotional outlook. Many noted that it forced them to choose between work and care; including taking time off from work or preventing them from moving for work.

“With a growing elderly population reliant on a younger workforce, we need to keep measuring our progress in supporting people with cancer and developing new solutions. It is critical for all members of the healthcare continuum, to find new ways – big and small, simple or complex – to help patients better manage their lives as well as to ease the caregiver burden,” says Jon Fairest, President and CEO of Sanofi Canada. “Cancer management is not only costly to our health system; it also significantly impairs individuals who make up a highly productive segment of our workforce and economy.”

The Canadian Cancer Society expects that 2 in 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes. Males have a 46% lifetime probability (or a 1 in 2.2 chance) of developing cancer. Females have a 41% lifetime probability (or a 1 in 2.4 chance) of developing cancer*.

Access to medicine

The burden on people being treated for cancer is already high because of health concerns, but for 15% of patients and 29% of caregivers, it is further complicated by the difficulty in accessing the most current or effective treatment options, in addition to the concerns over reimbursement of drug costs, long and intense treatments, and the loss of salary.

“When you look at the survey and see that 6% of patients reported having difficulty accessing medicine and 19% of caregivers reporting the same, you come to the conclusion that these statistics are too high for a country like Canada. Treatments that clearly improve quality of life and cancer outcomes should be available for all Canadians,” says Jon Fairest. “When you translate this information into the number of Canadians who are likely to develop cancer in their lifetime, we are talking thousands of people who have difficulty accessing medicine.”

Of the patients surveyed, 28% were currently living with cancer and 72% had had it in the past, which could account for different perceptions in the difficulty in accessing treatment. Survey responses lead to the conclusion that caregivers may have shielded their dependents from the difficulty in managing access.

“Patients living with cancer and dependent on the public system, wherever they live, need to have equal access in a timely manner to available treatments. This underscores the importance for provincial governments to list those treatment options that have been approved by Canadian health authorities,” added Mr. Fairest. “At Sanofi Canada, we stand behind the principle of access to the right medicine for the right patient at the right time. Access to cancer treatment should be universal and we should be making every effort for full access across the country.”

Carrying the load: the cancer burden

Survey results depict the caregiver to cancer patients as predominately female. Sixty-three percent of women compared to 37% of men carry the load of disease management and treatment. The majority of caregivers to oncology patients are under 54 years old (69%). Patients, meanwhile, are predominantly 55 and over (75%).

While emphasizing how important their role is, and how grateful for life and health they had become after caring for their loved one with cancer, caregivers described the negative impact cancer had on their mental state, describing their function as “emotionally draining,” “depressing,” and “stressful.”

Caregivers reported receiving no significant outside help in their caregiving, other than that provided by family and friends to help in the management of their loved one’s cancer treatment.

“Caring for cancer patients is complex,” says Jackie Manthorne, President & CEO of the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network. “People living with cancer require a wealth of financial and support services to access needed medicines and services that are in close proximity to their homes as well as psychological, nutrition and fitness services to support them in the healing process.”

To ease the burden of managing cancer and its treatment, three quarters of caregivers are in favour of out-of-hospital care for cancer patients, and 87% say their dependent would be likely to take advantage of the option of receiving treatment at home. Patients too are generally in favour of out-of-hospital care, and 80% say they would be likely to use a service that allows them to have treatment at home.

“At Sanofi, we understand that caregivers play a critical role in optimal cancer patient management and also figure prominently in the economic issues around cancer care,” said Victoria Vertesi, Vice-President Hospital-based Patient-centered Care, Sanofi Canada. “That’s why our patient-centric approach includes caring for caregivers. We are ready in Canada for innovative solutions that help patients and enable their caregivers to go back to healthy, productive living.”

About the survey

The survey was completed online in May, 2013 using Leger’s online panel, LegerWeb.

The total sample size was 502 Canadians (301 patients, 201 caregivers) who have cancer, have had cancer in the past, are currently caregivers to someone with cancer, or have been a caregiver in the past.

A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/- 4.4%, 19 times out of 20.

*Canadian Cancer Statistics 2013, Produced by Canadian Cancer Society, Statistics Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Provincial/Territorial Cancer Registries cancer.ca/statistics May 2013