Supporting Return-to-Work in the Face of Legislation: Stakeholders' Experiences with Return-to-Work After Breast Cancer in Belgium

Corine Tiedtke*, Peter Donceel, Lieve Knops, Huget Desiron, Bernadette Dierckx de Casterle, Angelique de Rijk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background The diagnosis of breast cancer increasingly implies a return-to-work (RTW) challenge as survival rates increase. RTW is regarded as a multidisciplinary process and a country's legislation affects the degree of involvement of the different stakeholders. We elucidated on bottlenecks and contributing factors and the relationship between policy and practice regarding RTW of employees with breast cancer as perceived by Belgian (Flemish) stakeholders. Methods Three multidisciplinary groups (n = 7, n = 9, n = 10) were interviewed during a breast cancer conference. Treating physicians (n = 4), employers (n = 6), social security physicians (n = 3), occupational physicians (n = 4), survivors (n = 5) and representatives of patient associations (n = 4) were included. The major theme was the legal and practical role in the RTW process as experienced by the participants. Qualitative thematic analysis was performed to analyse stakeholders' experiences of women's RTW after breast cancer. Results The stakeholders reported different perspectives. Employees focus on treatment and feel ill-informed about the RTW options. Treating physicians do not feel competent about advising on work-related questions. Employers have to balance the interests of both the business and the employee. Social security physicians assess ability to work and facilitate RTW options. Occupational physicians see opportunities but the legislation does not support their involvement. Stakeholders expressed the need for coordination and reported finding ways to accommodate the employee's needs by being flexible with the legislation to support the RTW process. Conclusions Two factors might hamper RTW for breast cancer patients: the varying stakeholder perspectives and Belgian legislation which emphasizes the patient or disability role, but not the employee role. When stakeholders are motivated they find ways to support RTW, but improved legislation could support the necessary coordination of RTW for these patients.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-251
JournalJournal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


  • Return to work
  • Breast cancer
  • Stakeholders
  • Experiences
  • Qualitative

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