Experiences and concerns about 'returning to work' for women breast cancer survivors: a literature review

Corine Tiedtke, Angelique de Rijk, Bernadette Dierckx de Casterle, Marie-Rose Christiaens, Peter Donceel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

130 Citations (Web of Science)


Objective: To explore how female breast cancer patients experience work incapacity during the treatment and return-to-work phases and how interactions between patients and stakeholders affect this experience. Method: Database search for full text articles published between January 1995 and January 2008 that focused on employed female breast cancer patients, factors related to work incapacity, and returning to work. Only results based on self-report data were included. Studies focusing on treatment, financial factors, rate of return, or absence were excluded. Results: Six articles met the inclusion criteria. Women with breast cancer receive varied reactions but little advice about returning to work. Women were primarily concerned with disclosing the diagnosis to their employer and to relatives. Uncertainties about physical appearance, ability to work, and possible job loss affected the women's decisions about working during the treatment phase. After treatment, most women wanted to regain their 'normal life', but concentration and arm or fatigue problems potentially interfered. Although supportive work environments were helpful, the individual needs of women differed. Employers and employees need to find a balance in defining accommodating work. Many women received favourable support, but some reported feeling discriminated against. Many women re-evaluated the role of work in their lives after being confronted with breast cancer. Conclusion: Work adjustments could help women to keep their jobs during illness and recovery. To resolve women's concerns about returning to work, employers, physicians, and insurance institutions should consider increasing and improving communication with breast cancer patients and playing a more active and supportive role.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)677-683
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


  • breast cancer
  • oncology
  • return to work
  • experiences
  • literature review

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