Unintended consequences: The social context of cancer survivors and work

Angela K Y MAK, Suwichit Chaidaroon, Gilbert Fan, Fahimah Thalib

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This article describes the ways in which socioeconomic characteristics and workplace contexts shape the unintended consequences that cancer survivors can experience as they return to work. The study was conducted in an employment setting where there is a major focus on productivity and economic growth in the business sector. Methods: Five focus groups (N = 33 participants) were conducted in 2012 in Singapore. Questions were directed at obtaining information related to the meaning of a job and reactions to return to work as a cancer survivor completes primary cancer treatment. A thematic analysis using a two-staged analytical process was conducted to identify (1) work-related challenges faced by survivors as a result of the interplay between their self-identity as someone with a critical illness and organizational structure, and (2) unintended social consequences (USCs) related to the interaction between the workplace and cancer survivor. Results: Eight emerging themes of work-related challenges and unintended consequences were categorized. Fear of losing out by compromising one's expectation, downplaying illness to avoid being a burden to others, working harder to meet expectations, and passive acceptance to perceived discrimination. Unintended consequences were also observed in relation to policies, procedures, and economic factors in the context of a heightened economically driven social climate. Conclusions: This study contributes to the understanding of how cancer survivors perceive their work situation. These findings can inform health care providers, employers, and policy makers regarding the challenges faced by cancer survivors as they return to the workplace in a culture of a rapidly growing emphasis on economic concerns. Implications for Cancer Survivorship: These findings offer a new perspective on the complexities that can occur when cancer survivors interact with their workplace. Awareness of the existence and types of unintended consequences in this context can help provide a more comprehensive understanding of the cancer survivor and work interface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-281
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cancer Survivorship
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Oncology
  • Oncology(nursing)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cancer
  • Communication
  • Culture
  • Return to work
  • Unintended consequences
  • Workplace support


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