PHILADELPHIA (October 29, 2020)—Researchers from Fox Chase Cancer Center have presented new data indicating that several factors, the most significant one being pain, are significantly associated with a reduction in the number of working days per week in patients who attempt to work while receiving radiation treatment for head and neck cancer (HNC).
According to Charles Lee, MD, PharmD, a second-year resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Fox Chase and the first author of the study, the findings are important because many patients diagnosed with HNC are younger. The new data was presented during a poster session at the ASTRO (American Society for Radiation Oncology) 2020 Annual Meeting.
“Of course in younger patients, they are often working. Thus, we have a lot of time lost from work, lost productivity from patients who take time off to get daily radiation treatments for anywhere from five to seven weeks,” Lee said. “We wanted to figure out what were factors that influenced patients taking time off from work or missing days from work during their treatments.”
The Fox Chase researchers reviewed the records of approximately 150 patients who had received radiation treatment at the center between June 2016 and June 2018 and for whom number of days worked in the past week was recorded. Of these, 40 patients were of working age but on disability or unemployment, and 29 were working at the start of radiation treatment.
The researchers compared baseline characteristics (e.g., distance from the cancer center, gender, substance use, surgery prior to radiation therapy, location of tumor) of the disabled and working groups and found none to be statistically significant. They then analyzed changes in patient weight, pain rating, fatigue, and ECOG status, a rating of the ability to perform basic daily functions.
They also looked at days worked in the working patients over their seven-week course of radiation treatment to determine which symptoms the patients reported as most significant and how those correlated with how many days per week the patient worked.
The findings showed that weight loss and increase in pain, fatigue, and ECOG status are significantly associated with a reduction in the number of working days per week. Of these symptoms, increase in pain had the most significant impact.
If their findings bear out in a larger sample, which the researchers intend to collect over the next few years, then they may point to which symptoms healthcare providers should prioritize to help patients keep working during treatment.
“For example, if weight loss or fatigue or pain were the most significant symptoms the patient reported that week, and they also missed three days of work that week, then we can say that if we treat pain better, if we mitigate weight loss better, provide better nutrition, then we can reduce the amount of productivity loss in HNC patients we’re working with,” said Lee.