Back To Work After Breast Cancer Surgery

Many women diagnosed with breast cancer are working women. Dr. Harness shares what he recommends to his patients when they come to him with questions about how much time they need off from work, and what types of activities it is safe to resume after breast cancer surgery.


Jay K. Harness, MD, FACS: The majority of women that I deal with breast cancer are working women. So one of the important questions that I am asked is, “Gee Dr. Harness, how much time am I going to need off from work and after I have my surgery, when can I go back to work?” Of course one of the questions I have to ask the patient is “What kind of work do you do?”

Fortunately, most of my patients are working jobs, that they can be on a desk, be at a computer things of that sort. One of my recent patients is a professional electrician doing construction work at industrial jobs. So the answer then is going to vary for a lot of different factors. (a) “What kind of work, do you do?”, (b) “Where does your surgery fit into the overall game plan of your treatment?” you know, factors like that. “What other sorts of support do you have?” Also the answer to the question “When can I go back to work?” depends on the extent of the surgery that we have done, so a small lumpectomy with a small central node biopsy, patient could easily be back at a computer type job or something like that sort within a week to 10 days.

If that same person is doing heavy labour or many of my patients do a lot of household work or other kinds of things, I may recommend they not go back to work for four to six weeks.

Generally, if you work at Ford Motor Company, as an example, you might be off work for two to three months because a company like Ford does not want you back in a production line, I used them simply as an example, until you are fully recovered from your surgery and there are no restrictions for your work.

That brings up another issue. Some patients can go back to work and do what they ask to, we add in restrictions for the work, happy to do that.

Now sort of blended in to all that answer is of course what is coming next. So let me give you an example, typical stage II patient now needs to go onto adjuvant chemotherapy. Generally the chemotherapy will begin about three weeks or so. After the surgery the patients are sufficiently healed up at that point in time to be able to start their chemotherapy. During the initial phases of chemotherapy, they might be doing quite well but then need to stop work because of some of the side effects of chemotherapy.

So as you can see the answer to the question “see Dr. Harness, when can I go back to work?” really the answer to that is kind of all over the waterfront, depending on your circumstances.

So as I have said multiple times, if you are working with a multidisciplinary team, those providers of that team can give you a correct or the best answer for you given your set of circumstances.

Dr. Jay K. Harness is a board certified surgeon currently treating patients at St. Joesph Hospital in Orange, CA. Dr. Harness specializes in complete breast health, breast cancer surgery, oncoplastic reconstruction, genetic screening, management of breast health issues, risk assessment and counseling. Dr. Harness is the medical director for Breast Cancer Answers.com, and guides this first ever social media show’s information by drawing on his former leadership experience as the President of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and Breast Surgery International. Dr. Harness graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1969 and spent time early on in his career at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

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