Breast cancer: a study evaluates the time it takes to return to work

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(© Image: Depositphotos)
(© Image: Depositphotos)

After how long do women treated for breast cancer return to work? Until now, there has been little national data on this important aspect of the patient’s care. A study carried out by researchers at Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University, Inserm, Gustave Eiffel University and Hospices civils de Lyon, based on data from the Assurance Maladie, has quantified this phenomenon, shedding light on the diversity of situations experienced by these women. The results are published in the journal Clinical Breast Cancer.

In recent years, the diagnosis of breast cancer has improved significantly. More than 60,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in France, which has led to better medical management. More patients are overcoming cancer, and an increasingly important aspect of care is helping them to improve their long-term quality of life. Among the many elements involved, returning to work is an important step.

Many factors come into play during a work stoppage, and then when you return to work. It’s a highly personal experience, with varying degrees of complexity and difficulty, depending on the situation.

" The consulting physician summoned me after 3 months of part-time therapy, and I experienced it as a guilt-inducing appointment ", recounts one of the participants [1] interviewed as part of the TRAVERSÉE study (Trajectories of care and return to work after a breast cancer diagnosis: SNDS data in support of support).

This scientific project, coordinated by Alexandra Dima, a researcher in health psychology, aimed to develop indicators and analysis methods to better reflect the diversity of patient situations.

"It’s the responsibility of public services to organize women’s return to work after breast cancer treatment as effectively as possible. To do this, we need to better understand their trajectories and how these women have experienced it ", she explains. She adds that " a better understanding of these trajectories would also help healthcare professionals to better plan care paths, and patients to better manage their work-life balance ".

As part of the TRAVERSÉE research project, scientists from the RESHAPE Public Health Research Laboratory (Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/Inserm) and the UMRESTTE Joint Epidemiological Research and Surveillance Unit for Transport, Work and the Environment (Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/Université Gustave Eiffel), together with the Hospices Civils de Lyon, have gained access to data from the French National Health Insurance (Assurance Maladie), one of the data sources of the French National Health Data System (Système National de Données de Santé). Using information such as sick leave compensated by daily allowances and disability pensions, they were able to compile statistics on how long it takes women to return to work after breast cancer.

To achieve this, the researchers involved a group of patient and healthcare professional representatives in the formulation, contextualization and interpretation of the methods and statistics established. An innovative aspect of the project.

The results of the study, published in the journal Clinical Breast Cancer, indicate that half of the women returned to work in the first year after diagnosis. Around 4 out of 10 returned instead in the second year after a period of part-time work. On the other hand, around 1 in 10 women have experienced periods of complete absence from work extending over 3 years since diagnosis. The study points out that it is particularly with women, whose period of return to work is particularly long, that we need to think differently about support.

" The methods implemented in this national database provide a comprehensive understanding of return-to-work trajectories and certain associated factors. This detailed information thus enables clinicians to offer personalized support to patients and design targeted interventions that facilitate a successful return to work," conclude the authors of this work.

The scientists, patient representatives and healthcare professionals who took part in the study strongly encourage patients to seek support for this important step in their career path.

[1] A group of patient representatives participated as experts in the TRAVERSÉE project. A group of patient representatives and healthcare professionals contributed to valorizing the knowledge acquired during this study in the form of videos.