A combination of quantitative data and illustrative narratives may allow cancer survivorship researchers to disseminate their research findings more broadly. We identified recent, methodologically rigorous quantitative studies on return to work after cancer, summarized the themes from these studies, and illustrated those themes with narratives of individual cancer survivors.
We reviewed English-language studies of return to work for adult cancer survivors through June, 2008, and identified 13 general themes from papers that met methodological criteria (population-based sampling, prospective and longitudinal assessment, detailed assessment of work, evaluation of economic impact, assessment of moderators of work return, and large sample size). We drew survivorship narratives from a prior qualitative research study to illustrate these themes.
Nine quantitative studies met 4 or more of our 6 methodological criteria. These studies suggested that most cancer survivors could return to work without residual disabilities. Cancer site, clinical prognosis, treatment modalities, socioeconomic status, and attributes of the job itself influenced the likelihood of work return. Three narratives - a typical survivor who returned to work after treatment, an individual unable to return to work, and an inspiring survivor who returned to work despite substantial barriers - illustrated many of the themes from the quantitative literature while providing additional contextual details.
Illustrative narratives can complement the findings of cancer survivorship research if researchers are rigorous and transparent in the selection, analysis, and retelling of those stories.