Sickness absence following breast cancer surgery: a two-year follow-up cohort study

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Rationale and aim

Most women of working ages with limited breast cancer (BC) have returned to work within the first year after diagnosis. However, little is known about what is happening during this year regarding sickness absence and return to work. Also, the knowledge is very limited about the occurrence of part-time sickness absence after BC diagnosis. Therefore, the aim of this study was to describe occurrence, extent and length of SA during a two-year follow-up after BC surgery and to analyse the association between being SA and type of cancer treatment.


In this prospective cohort study, 497 women responded to questionnaires about different aspects of sickness absence at six occasions during two years after primary BC surgery (at baseline and after 4, 8, 12, 18 and 24 months). Treatment information was obtained from the National breast cancer register. Multinomial logistic regression was used to calculate odds ratios (OR) for likelihood of being sickness absent more than once.


Two-thirds of the women were sickness absent at baseline; this proportion decreased, especially during the first eight months. At 24 months, 13% were sickness absent. Of all women, 27% never reported sickness absence and 14% were sickness absent at most of the six survey times. At eight months, many had shifted from full- to part-time sickness absence. Women with chemotherapy and/or advanced BC surgery had higher ORs for being sickness absent at most of the follow-ups.


Most women returned to work within the first eight months after BC surgery and of those sickness absent after that, most had been part-time sickness absent. Thus, it is important to differentiate between part- and full-time sickness absence in future studies. Special attention should be paid to the impact of chemotherapy and type of surgery on the likelihood of being sickness absent.

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