Difficult Career Start after Childhood Cancer

In Switzerland, around 350 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Their chances of survival are good, but the long-term consequences often affect their career prospects.

There are currently over 7,000 people living in Switzerland who survived cancer in childhood or adolescence. Due to the high cure rates, this number is very likely to rise in the future. This also means that a growing number of young survivors are looking for suitable training and career opportunities.

An Important Step in Life

Finding an apprenticeship, choosing a course of study and successfully entering working life are fundamental steps for young people to be able to participate in social and economic life and later lead an independent and self-determined life. "Being affected by a life-threatening illness such as childhood cancer as a child or adolescent in the crucial years of physical and psychological development can leave physical and psychological scars that do not always make integration into the world of work easy," explains Valérie Braidi-Ketter, CEO of Childhood Cancer Switzerland.

Childhood cancer survivors are often confronted with difficulties in their professional lives due to the late effects. They often fall through the cracks of the system. Either their capabilities are not quite sufficient for the primary labor market or they are underchallenged due to their capacities in the secondary labor market. Children and young people with a brain tumor are particularly at risk.

Hurdles for People with Impairments

While survivors with no or minor late effects manage to find a suitable training path and successfully enter the world of work, those affected with late effects often face hurdles. Some are unable to find a suitable apprenticeship or are forced to abandon their training. Others start work with a reduced workload because they do not have the energy to do more - like many other people with disabilities.

Impairments after childhood cancer

Common impairments after childhood cancer are:

  • Physical limitations
  • Chronic tiredness (fatigue)
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Psychosocial problems
  • Reduced resilience

Even if most people are happy to start their careers, experience shows that a slump can occur many years later. "Some people are in the middle of their careers, have perhaps started a family, and suddenly their performance decreases. This can mean that an already reduced workload has to be reduced further or that gainful employment is no longer possible at all. If the health impairments were not reported to the disability insurance at an early stage, or if a partial pension is not sufficient to secure a livelihood, those affected can find themselves in a financial and personal emergency situation." This is the opinion of aftercare specialist Dr. Eva Maria Tinner.

Uncertainty among those Affected and Employers

When it comes to employing people with disabilities, there is uncertainty among both those affected and employers. Employers tend to give preference to applicants without disabilities because otherwise they fear disadvantages for their company.

Survivors of childhood cancer often don't know how to deal with their previous illness during a job interview. For fear of stigmatization, some prefer not to mention their medical history as long as the late effects are not (too) visible. However, they have acquired special skills such as resilience, determination or perseverance as a result of their illness.

What rights do I have if I work with an impairment?

People with disabilities must not be discriminated against at work, but should rather be supported. Find out more in the article "Working with an Impairment - Your Rights".

Gaps in Provision for Professional Integration

The Swiss social system is complex. Those affected often feel overwhelmed and left alone when problems with professional integration arise. Those affected and their parents often complain about a major lack of information regarding the available support options and issues relating to disability insurance. Preventive legal advice and a comprehensive medical assessment before starting training or entering working life could help to take account of important aspects of social insurance law and avoid misguided career choices.

Free Advice from Childhood Cancer Switzerland

In order for integration into the world of work to be successful in the long term, there is also a need for coaching and legal advice services to accompany employment if further difficulties arise as a result of the long-term consequences and perhaps a professional reorientation is required. Such specific support services could help survivors to have better opportunities to find a suitable place in the world of work and thus gain independence and quality of life.

Childhood Cancer Switzerland addresses these problems. The organization provides professional support to those affected with social security and work-related issues. The counseling services are free of charge.

Childhood Cancer Switzerland

The umbrella organization Childhood Cancer Switzerland was founded in 2015 by renowned childhood cancer organizations. Its activities focus on the joint fight against cancer and its late effects in children and adolescents with the aim of improving the situation of those affected throughout Switzerland. This includes the optimization of treatment options, the development of new therapies and medicines that are accessible to all, better psychosocial support for affected families and optimal aftercare and support for childhood cancer survivors. Childhood Cancer Switzerland is involved in all these areas at national level with its own projects, PR and awareness-raising campaigns, political commitment, a national contact point for survivors and the provision of financial resources. More information at https://www.kinderkrebs-schweiz.ch/en.


Alexandra Weber

More on work and health