Employment After Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Among Women in the Sister and the Two Sister Studies

J Occup Rehabil. 2021 Sep;31(3):543-551. doi: 10.1007/s10926-020-09951-6. Epub 2021 Jan 2.


Purpose Women undergoing diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer may face challenges in employment. We investigated the impact of demographic, clinical, workplace, and psychosocial characteristics on loss of employment after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. We further describe changes in work status and work environment for cancer survivors who sustain employment. Methods We analyzed responses from a survey of breast cancer survivors from the Sister Study and the Two Sister Study cohorts who reported being employed at the time of their breast cancer diagnosis and who reported employment status (lost vs. sustained employment) at the time of survey administration. Multivariate logistic regression was used to identify the effects of lymphedema, neuropathy, problems with memory or attention, social support, health insurance, and sick leave on lost employment, adjusting for demographic characteristics, cancer stage, treatment, and general health. Results Of the 1675 respondents who reported being employed at the time of diagnosis, 83.5% reported being 'currently' employed at the time of the survey. Older age, peripheral neuropathy, lack of sick leave, late stage at diagnosis, a recurrence or a new cancer, problems with memory or attention, and poor general health were significantly associated with lost employment. Conclusions The long-term effects of breast cancer treatment and workplace provisions for leave and accommodation may have a substantial effect on women's ability to sustain employment. The findings from this study highlight challenges reported by cancer survivors that may inform clinical and occupational interventions to support survivors' return to work.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Cancer survivors; Disability; Employment; Return to work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Cancer Survivors*
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Survivors