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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Kentucky: Oncology Care Providers Need Greater Education on Employment Issues for Low-wage Women

Most cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in working-age women, making employment issues a top concern of many breast cancer patients, but especially low-wage workers who may not have the benefit of paid leave or flexible work arrangements.

[Photo: Dr. Robin Vanderpool]

Dr. Robin Vanderpool, University of Kentucky College of Public Health department of health, behavior and society, is co-author of a new publication exploring “Patient-Provider Communication: Experiences of Low-Wage-Earning Breast Cancer Survivors in Managing Cancer and Work,” published in the Journal of Cancer Education. Other authors are Ms. Helen M. Nichols, MSW (lead author), and Dr. Jennifer Swanberg, both of the University of Maryland.

The aim of collaborative, qualitative study upon which the paper is based was to explore low-wage-earning breast cancer survivors’ experiences communicating with their oncology team about cancer and employment issues. Twenty-four low-wage-earning breast cancer survivors in the U.S. were interviewed in 2012 using a structured interview protocol. Sociodemographic data, cancer history, and patient-provider communication experiences regarding the management of cancer and work were collected. Interviews were analyzed using grounded theory strategy of constant comparative analysis. Analysis of low-wage-earning breast cancer survivors’ experiences communicating with their oncology team about employment and cancer focused on three dimensions of patient-provider communication: extent, quality, and content.

Investigators found that 70 percent of respondents reported no communication or only routine communication with their providers regarding employment; three quarters of women reported poor or standard communication quality, and content of work-related communication covered scheduling issues, work absences, continuing to work during treatment, and financial concerns.

The authors conclude that “Communication between oncology care teams and low-wage-earning cancer patients is critical to the successful management of treatment and work responsibilities given the vulnerable employment situation of these women. There is a need for education of oncology team members about how cancer and its treatment can impact employment for all workers, but especially for low-wage workers, thereby allowing the care team to address these issues proactively and help patients successfully manage both cancer treatment and work responsibilities.”