Unlike in the West, 84 percent or more of Korean women diagnosed with breast cancer are under 65, meaning that most new patients are part of the working age population, a report showed.
Although the survival rate of local breast cancer patients surged along with the fast growth in breast cancer incidence, the social cost from the lost productivity from breast cancer amounted to about 642 billion won ($572 million), it said.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a market research institution, released a report titled, “Breast cancer patients and survivors in the Asia-Pacific workforce, South Korea: An incipient response to a ballooning problem” on Feb. 11.
The report said Korea is one of the countries that experienced the world’s fastest increases in breast cancer incidence in recent decades.
The age-standardized incidence rate, which adjusts the impact of demographic changes, went up by 59 percent between 2005 and 2015. Considering that age is a significant risk factor for breast cancer and that Korea’s population is aging at the world’s quickest pace, the crude incidence rate rose by 85 percent during the cited period, the report said. The crude incidence rate measures the actual proportion of the population affected by a disease.
Korea’s crude incidence rate – which was at 91.8 cases of 100,000 women – was lower than that of Europe and Australia but the third highest in Asia, according to the report.
However, Korea showed the best score in mortality-incidence ratio. Data from 2015 showed that at least 100,000 women were still alive after a diagnosis at a particular time in the past five years, which was 0.7 percent of the total female population.
Park Yeon-hee, a professor at Breast Cancer Center of Samsung Medical Center, said what makes Korea different from the West in breast cancer was that most new patients were part of the working-age population.
The median age of diagnosis for breast cancer in Korea was 50, while the number was 62 in the U.S.
According to a 2009 study, some decrease in labor market participation was the norm in every country studied but Korea showed the worst outcome in comparison with seven countries in North America and Europe, the report said.
Cho Ju-hee, a professor at Samsung Medical Center, said, “Although the data are old and the situation seems to have improved somewhat, Korea lags Western countries in return-to-work ratio.”
The report pointed out that social barriers such as stigma and lack of legal protection prevented breast cancer survivors from returning to work.
In a poll by the National Cancer Center in May 2017, 54 percent of the 1,500 healthy respondents agreed with the statement, “Employees with cancer should be considerate of their co-workers by not attending corporate events.” Another 52 percent agreed with the statement, “Companies should hire healthy new employees rather than former cancer patients.”
The report noted that Korea needs to review improving the legal system to ensure a cancer survivor’s return to work.
“Although breast cancer is a disease with the most active support group in Korea, patients do not strongly demand a return to work probably because of worries about discrimination,” Cho said.
<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>