New Survey Shows Clear Need for Paid Leave Among Cancer Patients and Survivors

74% of Cancer Patients Report Missing Work Due to Illness; Financial Burden Falls Heaviest on Lower Income Patients

December 7, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.—December 7, 2021—A new survey offers insight into how a national paid family and medical leave program could benefit cancer patients and survivors who struggle with missed work and lost income due to their illness.

According to the latest Survivor Views survey from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) 74% of cancer patients and survivors say they missed work due to their illness; most of whom (69%) reported missing more than four weeks of work. Additionally, one-third of those who missed work did not receive any pay for at least part of the time they needed to be out due to illness, and more than 1 in 10 (13%) lost or quit their jobs.

“Cancer treatment often causes major disruption to a patient’s life and work. It may require treatments with severe side effects, surgeries and other procedures that make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to work,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of ACS CAN. “Yet bills and expenses continue to mount. We need to do everything we can to ensure people can care for themselves and their loved ones without facing financial devastation.”

Forty-three percent of those surveyed said the financial effect of their missing work was somewhat or very difficult, with more women, people in their prime earning years, and those with less education reporting a higher financial strain. Those with household incomes of $70,000 a year or less were three times more likely than those making over $70,000 to say the financial effects of missed work were very difficult. Just 3% of higher income earners (earning over $125,000 annually) report losing their job due to the time they missed for cancer care, compared to 31% of those earning under $70,000 per year.


According to the U.S. Census, more than 54 percent of the U.S. population received employment-based insurance for all or part of the 2020 calendar year. Currently only about one-fifth of workers in the United States have access to employer-paid family leave and only two in five have access to short-term disability insurance through their jobs that allows them to receive partial pay while they recover from their own serious health issue. Fewer than 60 percent of workers qualify for job-protected, unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and workers of color, low-wage workers and single parents are disproportionately excluded.

“The need for paid leave for patients and caregivers is clear and is often felt most acutely among those who are least able to afford time away from work and who are more likely to work for employers that don’t offer any paid time off,” said Lacasse. “These data make clear why it’s critical for the U.S. Senate to retain the House-passed national paid family and medical leave program provision when it considers the Build Back Better legislation later this month. Doing so would represent a significant step toward helping these patients and their families get through some of the serious financial challenges a cancer diagnosis entails.”  

Ninety-eight percent of patients surveyed said they supported the creation of a national paid leave program with 87% saying they strongly support the idea.

The poll of 1,248 cancer patients and survivors was conducted October 22-November 19, 2021.

Read the full survey memo.

Media Contacts

Alissa Crispino
VP, Advocacy Communications and Policy
Allison Miller
Director, Media Advocacy