The influence of breast cancer-related lymphedema on women's return-to-work
The majority of women who develop breast cancer are under retirement age. Therefore, occupational functioning and employment are issues of significant concern. Breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) is one of the major treatment complications for breast cancer patients and it has been shown to be associated with adverse work outcomes. This study is one of the first to ask "how and why" lymphedema may interact with breast cancer survivors' return-to-work. The International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF), which was adopted to guide research design and analysis of data related to health outcomes, was used as a platform for thinking about the phenomenon of return-to-work. Case study methodologies drawn from Yin's (2014) definition were employed in this dissertation study. Thirteen women with BCRL were enrolled in this study. Participants completed a survey and then participated in a sixty-minute semi-structured individual interview. The results suggested that the return-to-work experience was shaped by interactions of the disease processes, the work activities required, the individual, and an array of environmental factors. Four main themes emerged: 1) BCRL affects physical and emotional functioning associated with work; 2) On-going treatment for BCRL creates challenges for work; 3) Environmental factors affect the work experience; and 4) Personal factors play a key role in adjusting to return-to-work. The findings shared considerable agreement with ICF model and suggested new perspectives towards understanding the model. This study suggests implications for BCRL education, clinical practice, health policy, and research.
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