(HealthDay News) – Productivity losses due to disability days for employees being treated for cancer represent about 20% of the overall health care expenditure, according to a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Using data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Derek H. Tang, from the University of Arizona in Scottsdale, and colleagues identified employed adults aged ≥18 years with any diagnosis of malignant neoplasms. The authors sought to assess outcomes with regards to health care expenditures, hospitalizations, and productivity.

The researchers found that productivity losses of approximately 33.4 million disability days were incurred by the 3.31 million employed persons who had cancer annually. The total annual health care expenditure for all persons was $38.3 billion, and lost productivity due to disability days represented about 20% of the annual health care expenditure, at $7.5 billion per year. The burden of illness was higher for women’s cancers and melanoma relative to other forms.

“Overall, this nationally representative investigation of cancer within employed persons working across large and small organizations suggests that productivity losses of approximately 33.4 million disability days are incurred across 3.3 million persons each year, equating to almost 20% of overall health care expenditures,” the authors write. “The broad implications of this work suggest that much more work should be placed on reducing the morbidity of cancer and subsequent treatments involved, including surgical, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.”

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