Return to work after a cancer diagnosis: a meta-review of reviews and a meta-synthesis of recent qualitative studies

J Cancer Surviv. 2020 Apr;14(2):114-134. doi: 10.1007/s11764-019-00828-z. Epub 2019 Dec 19.


Purpose: Returning to work (RTW) after cancer treatment can be challenging, but when desired, has many benefits. While there are many qualitative studies (reviews and recent studies) available on cancer survivors' experience of returning to work, synthesis of these qualitative studies is lacking. We aimed to summarise the existing qualitative reviews and recent studies following the last published review, to examine cancer survivors' motivations for and experiences of RTW, and to highlight factors within both the survivors and his or her environment that influence RTW.

Method: A set of systematic reviews focusing on RTW were identified. A systematic search for individual papers published on RTW since the last review was also completed. Data extraction and bias assessment were conducted, with 25% double-coded to ensure reliability. A meta-ethnographic approach was utilised to synthesise the findings of each.

Results: Seven systematic reviews and 12 individual papers between 2017 and 2019 were identified. Quality was variable. Most reviews and studies focused on women with breast cancer. Three major themes were identified: person factors, employment factors and wider contextual factors including family, social and cultural variables.

Conclusions: We identified gaps in research on the RTW experiences of people with cancers other than breast, men, those with low incomes and more diverse populations.

Implications for cancer survivors: Cancer survivors need to consider personal, employer and wider contextual factors when deciding whether and when to RTW. Future interventions to support survivors should be informed by these findings, addressing the diverse range of potential factors related to RTW in an individual survivor.

Keywords: Cancer survivors; Meta-review; Qualitative; Return to work; Synthesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cancer Survivors / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Return to Work / statistics & numerical data*