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Consultants' Corner
Volume 01 Issue 05

Using Ergonomics to Accommodate Limitations from Breast Cancer

From the desk of Beth Loy, Ph.D.

Because more women are continuing to work after a diagnosis of breast cancer, JAN is receiving a variety of related accommodation calls. JAN consultants are now seeing ergonomics take center stage in accommodating these individuals. Typically, women with breast cancer undergo a combination of treatments, drug therapies, and surgeries. Many have radiation therapy or chemotherapy, and some are treated with a combination of the two. Depending on how far the cancer has progressed by the time it is diagnosed, women may have various types of surgeries, ranging from removal of the cancerous breast lump (lumpectomy) to removal of the breast, lymph nodes, and the chest wall muscles (radical mastectomy). A potential side effect from removal of the lymph nodes is swelling of the arm, called lymphedema. This condition exacerbates any existing tightness or pain in the upper region of the body. The combination of surgeries, treatments, and lymphedema usually limits upper extremity movements, and ergonomic changes to a workstation may help alleviate painful, awkward postures and decrease fatigue.

For example, an individual with breast cancer who can no longer type for long periods may be accommodated with speech recognition. Also, one-handed keyboards and software programs are also available if only one side is affected. In addition, training on when to take breaks and how to make them effective, proper lifting techniques, and workstation setup may also be beneficial. Depending on the individual's position, other accommodations that are typically used for individuals with cumulative trauma disorders and back conditions, specifically ergonomic products and modifications, are also available.

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