Work Ability of Cancer Survivors

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Many people assume that cancer patients are not fit to work despite having completed the treatment. However, there are quite a number of cancer surviving patients who look forward to returning to work and to rejoin the workforce.

Management of cancer covers beyond medical treatments, and can also encompass the rehabilitation as well as a return-to-work plan. As for cancer patients, helping them to cope with the cancer treatment, undergoing rehabilitation as well as preparing them physically and mentally to resume work function, are all equally essential. Work ability of cancer survivors depends on several factors, including overall health and efficacy of treatment they received.

The Change of Hierarchy of Needs

The most basic needs like the ability to move around, eat and carry out daily activities would determine the quality of life among the cancer surviving patients. Such limitations could be a result of the disease itself or rarely, the treatment of it to some degree. In view of that, rehabilitation and return-to-work programmes are meant to enable the patient to return to workforce.

Optimizing the Support from Various Organizations

The importance of support from various organizations can’t be over emphasized. Family members and medical teams that include the doctors, nurses and rehabilitation therapists must always work together. Attending regular follow-ups as scheduled and compliance towards treatment are important as well. Conditions like adverse drug reactions, should be openly discussed during the consultation so that the doctors can manage the conditions accordingly. While it is physically and emotionally challenging for family members and caretakers to take care of patients daily, non-governmental organizations, such as hospices, may be able to render some forms assistance, like temporary respite care for caregivers.

Cancer survivors can give moral support and tips on fighting cancer to the newly-diagnosed patients through activities by the NGOs. For those who are interested, spiritual support with regular group prayer sessions, can be helpful as well.

Employers of the patients are to be informed about the disease which warrants medical leave for a period of time.

Preparing to Return to Workforce

To many, returning to the workforce means opportunities to reconnect with colleagues and friends, get involved in interesting and challenging projects, and start regaining a normal routine and lifestyle. At the same time, it could be a time when many questions may arise about how much to share with colleagues and employers about the cancer treatment and the worries on workplace rights and responsibilities may surface.

Ideally, in assessing fitness for work, the fundamental concepts are function, performance and safety rather than the nature of the underlying condition. The occupational physician would assess the patient’s working ability based on his functional capability, keeping safety and performance in mind. Besides that, assessment of the work process, nature and wor demands are also required before allowing the patient to return to his previous job. This is to prevent the medical condition from worsening as a result of the job nature.


  1. Practical Occupational Medicine 2nd Edition by Raymond Agius, Anthony Seaton

  2. Going Back to Work After Cancer-

  3. Role of The Consulting Physician, Occupational Health 4th Edition by Barry S.Levy, David H. Wegman

  1. Patient and Family Support- American Society of Clinical Oncology, ASCO (

  2. Working Environment Information: Mainstreaming OSH into Business Management published by European Agency for Safety and Health At Work