Strategies for Working Through Breast Cancer Treatment

Modified work activities enabled women to work during and after breast cancer treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For some women, working during breast cancer treatment is a necessity. The strategies these women have developed to cope with working during this time may help other women in the same situation.

A recent study interviewing women who worked during and after breast cancer treatment helped to shed light on techniques used to make working during this time a little easier.

Performing fewer or modified work tasks, adjusting their work schedule and doing fewer extra non-work activities at work were all strategies that helped women get through this tough time.

"Talk to your oncologist about work limitations during treatment."

This research was conducted by a team from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, led by Joanne C. Sandberg, PhD, of the Department of Family and Community Medicine.

To learn about strategies women with breast cancer used to make it easier to keep working, the researchers conducted interviews with 14 women. Each woman had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the last three to 24 months, was employed at the time of their diagnosis and was between the ages of 25 and 55 years old.

The interviewers asked the women about their job responsibilities before and after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and their ability to perform work tasks. They were also asked about adjustments that they or their work group made to deal with any limitations they had due to their disease or treatment.

Most women reported changing some part of their work. This change was initiated by themselves, a co-worker or their supervisor.

The most common work modification reported was a change in work schedule. Women either worked fewer days or fewer hours per day. These changes allowed the women to go to cancer treatments, and working less also helped with fatigue.

One woman decreased the amount of hours she worked and stopped working at her part time job.

Some women changed the type and amount of some tasks at work. Such changes included asking to do more desk work and having co-workers do more physically demanding work, if possible. One woman reported saving her energy by riding with others when travel for work was necessary, instead of driving herself.

Most women did not feel that they lost any mental alertness during or after treatment for their breast cancer. Some women, however, reported minor memory difficulties, such as remembering names or the content of brief conversations. One woman decided to decrease the number of classes she was taking because she felt that she couldn’t think clearly enough to complete coursework.

Changing the work environment was another adaptation used by the women. The women reported that working at home meant they used less energy to commute to work and allowed them to wear more comfortable clothes. Women who worked in healthcare settings used masks and other tools to prevent contracting infections.

Another way woman coped with working during and after treatment was to decrease the amount of non-work activities they did at work. This change meant staying at the office during lunch and not carrying as many things back and forth from their car in an effort to save their energy.

Most women used a combination of all these techniques to conserve their energy and continue to work through breast cancer treatments.

“Knowledge about the broad range of both formal and informal strategies identified in this study may enable health care and social services providers, as well as cancer survivors and employers, to identify a wide range of specific strategies that may reduce the negative effects of work-related limitations in specific work settings,” the authors wrote.

This study was published in the March/April issue of Women’s Health Issues.

Funding for the study was provided by the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Center for Worker Health.

Review Date: 
April 14, 2014
Last Updated:
April 14, 2014