The findings indicate that rural cancer patients are more likely to have financial problems than patients in cities, the researchers said.
The study looked at 1,155 cancer survivors in Vermont who were working at the time of their diagnosis. No significant differences were seen in the percentages of rural and urban patients who worked fewer hours, changed careers or were unable to work.
However, rural survivors were 66 percent more likely to retire early as a result of their cancer diagnosis, according to the study published recently in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.
This may be due to the fact that people in rural areas tend to have more physically demanding jobs -- such as construction, agriculture, forestry and mining -- and aren't able to continue them after their cancer treatment, said study author Michelle Sowden and colleagues at the University of Vermont.
Cancer survivors in rural areas were 33 percent less likely than those in cities to go on paid disability while receiving cancer treatment, according to a journal news release. This is likely because the types of manual labor jobs common in rural areas rarely offer disability benefits.
It's crucial for doctors to understand the financial effects that a cancer diagnosis can have on rural dwellers, who account for 20 percent of the U.S. population, the study authors said.
"Providers who care for rural patients must recognize that these patients may be at an increased risk for financial impact. Cancer care for these patients should incorporate counseling services related to returning to work after active treatment and assistance related to disability," they wrote. "It is possible that survivorship programs could lead this charge, with employment counseling becoming a standard part of this post-treatment phase of care."
The American Cancer Society offers tips for cancer survivors.