Sick leave among parents of children with cancer – a national cohort study

Background: Due to psychological distress and an increased care burden, parents of children diagnosed with cancer may face a higher risk of sickness absence from work. The objective of this study was to examine the association of childhood cancer with parents’ sick leave.

Material and methods: The sample comprised 3626 parents of 1899 children diagnosed with cancer in Sweden during 2004–2009, and a matched control group of parents (n = 34 874). Sick leave was measured as number of days with sickness benefit, retrieved from national registries. Logistic and negative binomial regression models were used to compare outcomes with parents from the control cohort.

Results: The risk of sick leave was statistically significantly higher up to six years following a child’s cancer diagnosis. The increase in number of days with sickness benefit was most pronounced the year after diagnosis. Although mothers’ sick leave prevalence was higher, the increase in risk relative to control parents was similar for mothers and fathers. Bereavement was associated with a heightened risk of sick leave, especially on the year of the child’s death.

Conclusions: Findings confirm that mothers and fathers of children diagnosed with cancer are at higher risk of sickness absence from work, with particularly pronounced risk among bereaved parents. Acquisition of further knowledge is warranted regarding possibilities and constraints of parents trying to combine their work life with caring for both their child and themselves.