Interventions to enhance return-to-work for cancer patients

Research question

What is the best way to help cancer patients get back to work when compared to care as usual?

Background

Each year more and more people who get cancer manage to get through treatment alive. Many cancer survivors live well, although they can continue to experience long-lasting problems such as fatigue, pain and depression. These long-term effects can cause problems with cancer survivors' participation in working life. Therefore, cancer is a significant cause of absence from work, unemployment and early retirement. Cancer patients, their families and society at large all carry part of the burden. In this Cochrane review we evaluated how well cancer patients can be helped to return to work.

Study characteristics

The search date was 25 March 2014. Fifteen randomised controlled trials including 1835 cancer patients met the inclusion criteria. We found four types of interventions. In the first, psycho-educational interventions, participants learned about physical side effects, stress and coping and they took part in group discussions. In the second type of physical intervention participants took part in exercises such as walking. In the third type of intervention, participants received medical interventions ranging from cancer drugs to surgery. The fourth kind concerned multidisciplinary interventions in which vocational counselling, patient education, patient counselling, biofeedback-assisted behavioral training and/or physical exercises were combined.We did not find any studies on vocational interventions aimed at work-related issues.

Key results

Results suggest that multidisciplinary interventions involving physical, psycho-educational and/or vocational components led to more cancer patients returning to work than when they received care as usual. Quality of life was similar. When studies compared psycho-educational, physical and medical interventions with care as usual they found that similar numbers of people returned to work in all groups.

Quality of the evidence

We found low quality evidence of similar return-to-work rates for psycho-educational interventions compared to care as usual. We also found low quality evidence showing that physical training was not more effective than care as usual in improving return-to-work. We also found low quality evidence that less radical cancer treatments had similar return-to-work rates as more radical treatments. Moderate quality evidence showed multidisciplinary interventions involving physical, psycho-educational and/or vocational components led to higher return-to-work rates than care as usual.

Authors' conclusions: 

We found moderate quality evidence that multidisciplinary interventions enhance the RTW of patients with cancer.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Cancer patients are 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed than healthy people. Therefore it is important to provide cancer patients with programmes to support the return-to-work (RTW) process. This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in 2011.

Objectives: 

To evaluate the effectiveness of interventions aimed at enhancing RTW in cancer patients compared to alternative programmes including usual care or no intervention.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, in the Cochrane Library Issue 3, 2014), MEDLINE (January 1966 to March 2014), EMBASE (January 1947 to March 2014), CINAHL (January 1983 to March, 2014), OSH-ROM and OSH Update (January 1960 to March, 2014), PsycINFO (January 1806 to 25 March 2014), DARE (January 1995 to March, 2014), ClinicalTrials.gov, Trialregister.nl and Controlled-trials.com up to 25 March 2014. We also examined the reference lists of included studies and selected reviews, and contacted authors of relevant studies.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of the effectiveness of psycho-educational, vocational, physical, medical or multidisciplinary interventions enhancing RTW in cancer patients. The primary outcome was RTW measured as either RTW rate or sick leave duration measured at 12 months' follow-up. The secondary outcome was quality of life.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion, assessed the risk of bias and extracted data. We pooled study results we judged to be clinically homogeneous in different comparisons reporting risk ratios (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We assessed the overall quality of the evidence for each comparison using the GRADE approach.

Main results: 

Fifteen RCTs including 1835 cancer patients met the inclusion criteria and because of multiple arms studies we included 19 evaluations. We judged six studies to have a high risk of bias and nine to have a low risk of bias. All included studies were conducted in high income countries and most studies were aimed at breast cancer patients (seven trials) or prostate cancer patients (two trials).

Two studies involved psycho-educational interventions including patient education and teaching self-care behaviours. Results indicated low quality evidence of similar RTW rates for psycho-educational interventions compared to care as usual (RR 1.09, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.35, n = 260 patients) and low quality evidence that there is no difference in the effect of psycho-educational interventions compared to care as usual on quality of life (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.05, 95% CI -0.2 to 0.3, n = 260 patients). We did not find any studies on vocational interventions. In one study breast cancer patients were offered a physical training programme. Low quality evidence suggested that physical training was not more effective than care as usual in improving RTW (RR 1.20, 95% CI 0.32 to 4.54, n = 28 patients) or quality of life (SMD -0.37, 95% CI -0.99 to 0.25, n = 41 patients).

Seven RCTs assessed the effects of a medical intervention on RTW. In all studies a less radical or functioning conserving medical intervention was compared with a more radical treatment. We found low quality evidence that less radical, functioning conserving approaches had similar RTW rates as more radical treatments (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.09, n = 1097 patients) and moderate quality evidence of no differences in quality of life outcomes (SMD 0.10, 95% CI -0.04 to 0.23, n = 1028 patients).

Five RCTs involved multidisciplinary interventions in which vocational counselling, patient education, patient counselling, biofeedback-assisted behavioral training and/or physical exercises were combined. Moderate quality evidence showed that multidisciplinary interventions involving physical, psycho-educational and/or vocational components led to higher RTW rates than care as usual (RR 1.11, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.16, n = 450 patients). We found no differences in the effect of multidisciplinary interventions compared to care as usual on quality of life outcomes (SMD 0.03, 95% CI -0.20 to 0.25, n = 316 patients).

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