Cancer-work management: Hourly and salaried wage women’s experiences managing the cancer-work interface following new breast cancer diagnosis

Document Type




The purpose of this paper is to report the baseline characteristics of EMPOWER participants—a group of newly diagnosed breast cancer survivors—and describe differences in hourly and salaried wage women’s experiences regarding cancer and work management in the three months following breast cancer diagnosis.

Design and setting

The EMployment and Potential Outcomes of Working through canceER (EMPOWER) project is a prospective longitudinal, mixed methods pilot study designed to evaluate how employment influences treatment decisions among women diagnosed with breast cancer. Participants were women diagnosed with new breast cancer and treated at one of two clinical sites of the University of Maryland Medical System. Women were enrolled in the study within three months of first breast cancer diagnosis. Study visits occurred every three months for one year. This paper reports data from for the baseline and three-month visit which had been completed by all enrollees.


Trained research personnel collected demographic information, medical history and health status, social history, employment data, cancer-related data, psychosocial adjustment, and financial wellbeing at the baseline enrollment visit. A semi-structured qualitative interview was administered at the three-month study visit to assess employment decisions and the impact of job demands, cancer care, and cancer-work fit during the three months following diagnosis.


Fifty women with new, primary diagnosis of breast cancer were enrolled in the study. Mean age of participants was 51 years, and 46% identified their race as Black or other. The majority of women disclosed their diagnosis to their employer and nearly all maintained some level of employment during the first three to six months of treatment. Women with hourly wage jobs were similar to those with salaried wage jobs with respect to demographic and social characteristics. Women with hourly wage jobs were more likely to report working in physically demanding jobs and taking unpaid leave. They were also more likely to experience side effects that required physical restrictions at work, to leave their jobs due to demands of treatment, and to report managing cancer and work concurrently as very difficult. Women in salaried wage jobs were more likely to report falling behind or missing work and working remotely as a cancer-management strategy. Women in hourly jobs more often reported difficulty managing the competing demands of cancer and work.


While further study is needed, these results suggest that women in hourly and salaried workers reported similar experiences managing cancer and work, with a few key exceptions. These exceptions pertain to the nature of hourly-wage work. Cancer survivors employed in hourly jobs may be more vulnerable to poor employment outcomes due to limited access to paid time off and workplace flexibility, and challenges related to managing physical aspects of cancer and employment.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Citation/Publisher Attribution

Tracy, J. Adetunji, F., Al Kibria, G., & Swanberg, J. (2020). Cancer-work management: Hourly and salaried wage women’s experiences managing the cancer-work interface following new breast cancer diagnosis. PLoS ONE 15(11): e0241795.