Aim: Information and support regarding return to work (RTW) after cancer diagnosis are important unmet needs for cancer survivors, health professionals and employers. Disadvantaged communities are likely to be particularly vulnerable to loss of work after cancer as a result of limited employment options, more limited work skills and/or limited access to cancer care. The aim of this project was to gain perspectives of cancer survivors and health care providers regarding enablers, barriers and gaps in support for RTW after cancer. with a particular emphasis on disadvantaged communities.
Methods: Participants were purposively selected from regional and rural areas and urban areas of disadvantage. A semi-structured interview guide was used to guide conversations with survivors, GP’s, cancer care professionals either through focus groups (5 with GPs, 2 with cancer survivors, 1 with Aboriginal health workers, 1 with cancer care providers), or individual telephone interview (n=7). Data were coded, inductively, until consensus regarding the emergent themes was achieved among the 3 coders.
Results: Major themes (in italics) identified factors that impacted on work ability after cancer including work place support, availability of alternate/flexible employment and access to alternate financial support without the requirement to stop work. Participants felt that patients in rural areas were more vulnerable to difficulties with RTW due to smaller job marker and less support services available. Survivors and health care providers expressed difficulties navigating the system to seek support and felt that any improvements would require advocacy and system changes at the health care and employment policy level.
Conclusions: Work after cancer is a significant challenge for cancer survivors and their health care providers.
Supported by Cancer Australia ‘Supporting People with Cancer’ grant initiative.