Journal of Cancer Survivorship

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 72-81

First online:

Work ability of survivors of breast, prostate, and testicular cancer in Nordic countries: a NOCWO study

  • M.-L. LindbohmAffiliated withCentre of Expertise for Health and Work Ability, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health Email author 
  • , T. TaskilaAffiliated withPrimary Care Clinical Sciences, School of Health and Population Sciences, University of Birmingham
  • , E. KuosmaAffiliated withCreating Solutions, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health
  • , P. HietanenAffiliated withFinnish Medical Journal
  • , K. CarlsenAffiliated withResearch Center for Prevention and Health, Glostrup University Hospital
  • , S. GudbergssonAffiliated withDepartment of Oncology and Surgery, Oslo University Hospital, Radiumhospitalet
  • , H. GunnarsdottirAffiliated withCenter of Public Health Sciences, University of Iceland

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Cancer can cause adverse effects on survivors’ work ability. We compared the self-assessed work ability of breast, testicular, and prostate cancer survivors to that of people without cancer. We also investigated the association of disease-related and socio-demographic factors and job-related resources (organizational climate, social support, and avoidance behavior) with work ability and looked at whether these associations were different for the survivors and reference subjects.


Working aged cancer patients diagnosed between 1997 and 2002 were identified from hospital or cancer registries in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway (Nordic Study on Cancer and Work). A cancer-free reference group was selected from population registries. We collected information on work ability and other factors from 1,490 employed survivors and 2,796 reference subjects via a questionnaire.


The adjusted mean value of work ability was slightly lower among the breast and prostate cancer survivors compared to the cancer-free population. Co-morbidity, chemotherapy, low workplace support, and low organizational commitment were associated with reduced work ability. Avoidance behavior from supervisors or colleagues was only related to work ability among the cancer survivors.

Conclusions and implications

More attention should be paid to assisting cancer survivors in work life, particularly those who have chronic diseases or have undergone chemotherapy. Although most factors affecting the work ability of the survivors and reference subjects were the same, survivors’ work ability seemed to be particularly sensitive to avoidance behavior. The results suggest that there is a need to improve communication at the workplace and develop supportive leadership practices in order to avoid isolating behavior towards cancer survivors.


Cancer Disability Job resources Social support Survivorship Work ability