Return to work among breast cancer survivors: A literature review

Support Care Cancer. 2017 Mar;25(3):709-718. doi: 10.1007/s00520-016-3446-1. Epub 2016 Nov 21.


Purpose: Breast cancer survivors in their employment years are likely to try to go back to work after the primary treatment. Because the literature on return to work among breast cancer survivors is limited, we have undertaken a review of the literature to summarize what is known, including identifying important contributing variables and outcomes. This knowledge may be used to develop hypotheses and potential interventions to support breast cancer survivors who wish to return to work.

Method: We searched the following databases: CINAHL, MEDLINE, SCOUP, and PUBMED, within a 10-year timeframe (2004 to 2014).

Results: The majority of reviewed articles (N = 25) focused on three outcomes: return-to-work period, work ability, and work performance. The most frequently studied independent variables were collapsed into the following groups: health and well-being, symptoms and functioning, work demands and work environment, individual characteristics, and societal and cultural factors. Gaps in the literature include evidence of effective interventions to support return to work among breast cancer survivors and research to better understand the roles of government and business-related policy.

Conclusion: All the studies reported a reduced work engagement and work ability. Employment status and work performance is associated with a combination of individual factors, work environment, culture, and resources.

Implications: Significant gaps are apparent in the literature addressing breast cancer survivorship and return to work. This is a complex problem and it will likely require interdisciplinary research teams to develop effective and feasible interventions for this population.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Return to work; Review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Return to Work*
  • Survivors