Employment and return to work in head and neck cancer survivors

Irma M. Verdonck-de Leeuw*, Willem Jan van Bleek, C. René Leemans, Remco de Bree

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


To investigate employment in working-age head and neck cancer (HNC) survivors before and after treatment in relation to sociodemographic and clinical factors, health related quality of life, and emotional distress. Patients younger than 65 years at time of diagnosis and at least 2 years after curative treatment for HNC were included. Exclusion criteria were cognitive dysfunction and no understanding of Dutch language. Primary outcome measures were employment status and return to work assessed by a study specific questionnaire. Secondary outcome measures were health related quality of life (EORTC QLQ-C30 and QLQ-H&N35) and emotional distress (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)). Sociodemographic and disease and treatment related parameters, health related quality of life, and distress were compared to employment status. Eighty-five out of 113 included patients completed the questionnaires (response rate 75%). At time of diagnosis 32 patients were not working (38%), significantly associated with (higher) age and (lower) education level. Of the 53 patients who were employed at time of diagnosis, 44 patients returned to work (83%): 28 to the same work, 7 to adapted work and 9 to other work. Median time was 6 months to return to work (range 0-24 months) and 71% of the patient returned to work within 6 months after treatment. Anxiety and oral dysfunction as xerostomia, trismus, sticky saliva, problems with teeth, and loss of appetite, problems with social eating and social contacts were significantly associated with employment after treatment. The majority of employed HNC survivors return to work within 6 months after treatment. Oral dysfunction, loss of appetite, deteriorated social functioning, and high levels of anxiety are barriers for HNC survivors to return to work after treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-60
Number of pages5
JournalOral Oncology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Distress
  • Employment
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Health related quality of life
  • Oral function
  • Return to work
  • Survivorship
  • Trismus
  • Xerostomia


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