Perceptions of clinical support for employed breast cancer survivors managing work and health challenges



A substantial portion of breast cancer survivors are active in the workforce, yet factors that allow survivors to balance work with cancer management and to return to work are poorly understood. We examined breast cancer survivors’ most valued/desired types of support in early survivorship.


Seventy-six employed breast cancer survivors answered an open-ended survey question assessing the most valued/desired support to receive from healthcare providers during early survivorship to manage work and health. Cutrona’s (Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9:3–14, 1990) optimal matching theory and House’s (1981) conceptualization of social support types informed our analyses. Data were content-analyzed to identify themes related to support, whether needed support was received or not, and the types of healthcare providers who provided support.


We identified six themes related to types of support. Informational support was valued and mostly received by survivors, but they expected more guidance related to work. Emotional support was valued but lacking, attributed mainly to providers’ lack of personal connection and mental health support. Instrumental (practical) support was valued but received by a small number of participants. Quality of life support to promote well-being and functionality was valued and often received. Other themes included non-specific support and non-support.


This study expands our understanding of how breast cancer survivors perceive work-related support from healthcare professionals. Findings will inform targeted interventions designed to improve the support provided by healthcare professionals.

Implications for Cancer Survivors

Breast cancer survivors managing work and health challenges may benefit by having their unmet support needs fulfilled.

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We gratefully acknowledge assistance with data collection efforts received from the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health, the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital, and the Connecticut Cancer Partnership. We particularly appreciate the assistance of Amanda Katzman and Lisa Rusch in recruiting participants for our survey. The authors would also like to thank the members of the design team of breast cancer survivors, cancer clinicians, and researchers who participated in our study.


This publication was supported with a grant from the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative, Inc., and funds from the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (CICATS). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors.

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Correspondence to Alicia G. Dugan.

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This paper is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Cheryl Oncken, a fellow cancer researcher, esteemed colleague, and caring mentor.

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Dugan, A.G., Decker, R.E., Namazi, S. et al. Perceptions of clinical support for employed breast cancer survivors managing work and health challenges. J Cancer Surviv (2021).

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  • Breast cancer
  • Survivorship
  • Employment
  • Social support
  • Unmet needs