Employers need to be more aware of the capabilities of women affected by breast cancer and provide them with better support, backed by employment directives and occupational health policies, according to a paper in the November issue of the European Journal of Cancer Care.
A review carried out by Dr Maggi Banning, from Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK, also showed that healthcare professionals need to provide breast cancer patients and survivors with better information about the best time to return to work.
Dr Banning reviewed ten studies on the employment experiences of 1,181 women affected by the disease from the USA, Canada, UK, Sweden and Denmark published between 1991 and 2010.
"Employment is an important factor in the lives of people with cancer as a return to work is often associated with a return to normality" says Dr Banning, a senior lecturer in clinical practice at the University.
"But it is clear that there are considerable differences in women's experiences of returning to work. Some positive working practices were reported, but other organisations were guilty of a culture of ignorance. Many of the negative experiences centred on the unrealistic expectations and inflexibility of some employers, lack of support from colleagues and mistaken assumptions about the woman's physical appearance."
Key findings of the study included:
Some women felt that returning to work was a welcome distraction from life as a cancer patient and provided a sense of normality, structure to their day, belonging, identity and social connections. However, others were apprehensive because of low perceptions of their physical fitness and work capacity after treatment and concerns about what their employer would expect of them.
Financial pressures were a common driver, with studies estimating that half the women could no longer afford to remain off work. Some women even missed scheduled treatm
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