Females, younger workers, the self-employed and those working in the public sector were more likely to report a negative impact, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study, which was funded by the Irish Cancer Society, found.
While seven in 10 people felt supported by both their employers and manager in returning to their job, nearly half of respondents felt that their cancer diagnosis negatively impacted career prospects.
Nearly half of those who returned to employment identified health issues which affected their ability to return to work.
A third of cancer patients and survivors surveyed reported negative experiences such as reduction in salary or bonus (11 per cent) on their return or being overlooked for promotion (7 per cent).
The most commonly reported factors which facilitated a return to employment were a phased return (44 per cent), help and support from colleagues (43 per cent), help and support from employer/manager (41 per cent), and time off for medical appointments (40 per cent).
Anne Marie Davy (55) from Galway – who returned to work in 2018 following major cancer surgery, said she could relate to many of the study’s findings.
“I wanted to get on with things and get back to normal, which was important to me, but there is a stigma,” Ms Davy said.
“It frustrates me when people make presumptions about what I can and can’t do, and I find that someone in my position ends up often having to fight their own battles.”
Ms Davy was one of over a quarter of respondents who cited maintaining or regaining a sense of normality as their main reason for returning to work.
Almost four in 10 referenced financial need as their main reason for returning, an area that must now be addressed according to Irish Cancer Society’s advocacy director Rachel Morrogh.
She said: “Returning to work after a cancer diagnosis is often very important in a patient’s recovery, as it restores a sense of purpose for many.
“It is concerning, however, that so many people felt they had to return to work sooner than they might have wished because of financial challenges.
“We know from previous research the crippling financial impact a diagnosis can have on people and their families.
“The Irish Cancer Society wants all patients to feel supported after a diagnosis, and their quality of life, finances and career prospects should not be affected by their illness.
“With this in mind, we have published a series of recommendations for Government, employers and trade unions, along with outlining actions the Irish Cancer Society will take.
“We have already established a new online benefits and entitlements hub with information on state supports for those taking time off work or returning to work.
“In the coming weeks and months we will work in a spirit of partnership with a range of stakeholders, led by patients and survivors, to progress our recommendations.”
ESRI report author Dr Sheelah Connolly said: “The research suggests that many people diagnosed with cancer have a relatively positive experience when returning to employment.
“However, returning to employment can be challenging for several reasons, including ongoing physical and mental health issues.
“Employers can facilitate the return through open communication with the employee and supporting a flexible return based on the individual’s needs.”
The survey included 377 people diagnosed with cancer between 2010 and 2020, 86 per cent of whom had returned to employment at the time of completing the survey.