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Cancer Treatments Often Sideline Job

Head, neck cancer therapies can leave patients unable to work

TUESDAY, June 29, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Treatment for head and neck cancer can leave many patients so disabled they're unable to return to work, according to a study led by University of Michigan Health System researchers.

The study of 384 people with head and neck cancer found that 52 percent of them couldn't go back to work after they received chemotherapy or neck surgery.

Patients who had chemotherapy were 3.5 times more likely to report work-related disability. Those who had neck dissection -- surgery to remove lymph nodes in the neck -- were twice as likely to report disability.

Higher pain scores were also associated with work-related disability.

"Although chemotherapy and neck dissection appear to be associated with disability, patients should not opt out of these important treatments because of that. Decisions about treatment should be primarily concerned with ensuring survival and preventing recurrence. Still, disability and quality-of-life issues are secondary concerns and need to be addressed," study author Dr. Jeffrey Terrell, an associate professor of otolaryngology, said in a prepared statement.

"As we develop new therapies, doctors need to consider ways to minimize patients' discomfort. Pain needs to be prevented or treated appropriately, and the negative effects of chemotherapy and neck dissection should be addressed in an effort to reduce patient disability," added study co-author and otolaryngology resident Dr. Joseph Taylor.

The study appears in the June issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about head and neck cancer.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, June 2004
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