Work-related experiences of head and neck cancer survivors: an exploratory and descriptive qualitative study

Carolyn S Dewa, Lucy Trojanowski, Sietske J. Tamminga, Jolie Ringash, Maurene McQuestion, Jeffrey S Hoch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Purpose: This exploratory and descriptive study contributes to the growing knowledge about the return-to-work (RTW) experience of head and neck cancer (HNC) survivors. Viewing RTW as a process, participants were asked to consider the work-related experience with HNC at different phases: (1) at diagnosis/pre-treatment, (2) working during treatment (if the respondent did not take a work disability leave), and (3) post-treatment/RTW (if the respondent took a work disability leave). Methods: Data were gathered in nine individual semi-structured in-depth interviews with patients receiving treatment at a quaternary cancer center’s HNC clinic in Ontario, Canada. Using a constant comparative method of theme development, codes were identified in and derived from the data. Codes with similar characteristics were grouped, used to develop overarching themes, and were organized according to the RTW factors identified in the literature. Results: Each phase has different barriers that are in turn addressed by different facilitators. As reflected in the literature, we found that RTW or the process of work continuation is complex. Many players and interactions contribute to the worker’s experience. Conclusions: By recognizing that work-related experiences differ by phases, clinicians and employers can better support HNC survivors depending on the phase of the RTW process.Implications for RehabilitationOur findings suggest that when rehabilitation specialists are working with survivors to develop interventions, the return-to-work phase and work context rather than diagnosis should be considered as a starting point.At every phase, supportive and empathetic managers are a key to successful work experiences for people who have been diagnosed and are being treated for head and neck cancer.Rehabilitation specialists should help survivors to seek supportive interactions with the environment that are essential to enable the ability to work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
StateAccepted/In press - Feb 22 2017


  • Cancer
  • head and neck cancer
  • return-to-work
  • survivors
  • work continuation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation


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