Cancer Survivors’ Social Context in the Return to Work Process: Narrative Accounts of Social Support and Social Comparison Information



Purpose Returning to work is a process that is intertwined with the social aspects of one’s life, which can influence the way in which that person manages their return to work and also determines the support available to them. This study aimed to explore cancer patients’ perceptions of the role of their social context in relation to returning to work following treatment. Methods Twenty-three patients who had received a diagnosis of either urological, breast, gynaecological, or bowel cancer participated in semi-structured interviews examining general perceptions of cancer, work values and perceptions of the potential impact of their cancer diagnosis and treatment on work. Interviews were analysed using the iterative process of Framework Analysis. Results Two superordinate themes emerged as influential in the return to work process: Social support as a facilitator of return to work (e.g. co-workers’ support and support outside of the workplace) and Social comparison as an appraisal of readiness to return to work (e.g. comparisons with other cancer patients, colleagues, and employees in other organisations or professions). Conclusions Two functions of the social context of returning to work after cancer were apparent in the participants’ narrative: the importance of social support as a facilitator of returning to work and the utilisation of social comparison information in order to appraise one’s readiness to return to work. The role of social context in returning to work has largely been absent from the research literature to date. The findings of this study suggest that social support and social comparison mechanisms may have a significant impact on an individual’s successful return to the workplace.


Social context Cancer Return to work Social support Social comparison 



This paper presents independent research funded by the NIHR under its Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme (Grant Reference Number PB-PG-0613-31088). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants have been approved by the appropriate research ethics committee (institutional and national) and have been performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Health and Life SciencesCoventry UniversityCoventryUK
  2. 2.Department of Psychological SciencesBirkbeck, University of LondonLondonUK

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