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Sick leave patterns among 5-year cancer survivors: a registry-based retrospective cohort study



The aims of this study were to observe the sick leave rates of cancer survivors for five consecutive years following a first lifetime diagnosis of invasive cancer and to identify socio-demographic and clinical predictors of sick leave taken in the fifth year after diagnosis.


This registry study comprised 2,008 Norwegian individuals (18–61 years old) with their first lifetime diagnosis of invasive cancer in 1999 and alive in 2004 and a cancer-free control group (n = 3,240) matched by sex, age, educational level, and employment status in 1998. Sick leave was defined as at least one sick leave period >16 days within the year in question.


A total of 75 % of the long-term cancer survivors (LTCSs) took sick leave within the first 12 months after their diagnosis. The sick leave rate stabilized at a slightly higher level in the following 4 years compared to the year before diagnosis, with approximately 23 % of the male and 31 % of the female LTCSs taking sick leave. Being single with children, having low education, working in health and social work sector, or having taken sick leave the year before diagnosis (1998) predicted the sick leave taken 5 years after diagnosis (2004) among LTCSs. Compared to the controls, LTCSs with rectal, lymphogenic, breast, or “other” types of cancer had significantly higher sick leave rates 5 years after diagnosis. Socio-demographic factors explained more of the variance in sick leave than did clinical factors.


Employed LTCSs struggle with their ability to work 5 years after diagnosis. More research is needed to identify factors that would promote LTCSs’ health and ability.

Implications for cancer survivors

A socioeconomic and work environmental perspective seems necessary for achieving effective occupational rehabilitation and preventing sick leave among LTCSs.

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The Norwegian Cancer Society requested and funded this project, but did not influence the data collection, statistical analysis, or findings presented in this paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Steffen Torp.

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Torp, S., Nielsen, R.A., Gudbergsson, S.B. et al. Sick leave patterns among 5-year cancer survivors: a registry-based retrospective cohort study. J Cancer Surviv 6, 315–323 (2012).

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  • Sickness
  • Absence
  • Registry
  • Longitudinal
  • Work
  • Employment
  • Health promotion