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The Working After Cancer Study (WACS): a population-based study of middle-aged workers diagnosed with colorectal cancer and their return to work experiences

Louisa G Gordon123*, Brigid M Lynch4, Vanessa L Beesley23, Nicholas Graves3, Catherine McGrath1, Peter O'Rourke23 and Penelope M Webb2

Author Affiliations

1 Griffith University, Griffith Health Institute, Centre for Applied Health Economics, University Drive, Meadowbrook Q4131, Australia

2 Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Population Health Department, 300 Herston Rd, Herston, Brisbane Q4006 Australia

3 Queensland University of Technology, School of Public Health, Victoria Park Rd, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, Q4006 Australia

4 Alberta Health Services- Cancer Care, Department of Population Health Research 1331 29th Street NW Calgary T2N 4N2, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:604  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-604

Published: 29 July 2011



The number of middle-aged working individuals being diagnosed with cancer is increasing and so too will disruptions to their employment. The aim of the Working After Cancer Study is to examine the changes to work participation in the 12 months following a diagnosis of primary colorectal cancer. The study will identify barriers to work resumption, describe limitations on workforce participation, and evaluate the influence of these factors on health-related quality of life.


An observational population-based study has been designed involving 260 adults newly-diagnosed with colorectal cancer between January 2010 and September 2011 and who were in paid employment at the time they were diagnosed. These cancer cases will be compared to a nationally representative comparison group of 520 adults with no history of cancer from the general population. Eligible cases will have a histologically confirmed diagnosis of colorectal cancer and will be identified through the Queensland Cancer Registry. Data on the comparison group will be drawn from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. Data collection for the cancer group will occur at 6 and 12 months after diagnosis, with work questions also asked about the time of diagnosis, while retrospective data on the comparison group will be come from HILDA Waves 2009 and 2010. Using validated instruments administered via telephone and postal surveys, data will be collected on socio-demographic factors, work status and circumstances, and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) for both groups while the cases will have additional data collected on cancer treatment and symptoms, work productivity and cancer-related HRQoL. Primary outcomes include change in work participation at 12 months, time to work re-entry, work limitations and change in HRQoL status.


This study will address the reasons for work cessation after cancer, the mechanisms people use to remain working and existing workplace support structures and the implications for individuals, families and workplaces. It may also provide key information for governments on productivity losses.

Study Registration

Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry No. ACTRN12611000530921