Purpose: Ability to return to work (RTW) is an important aspect of breast cancer that is limited for many survivors. With 90% survivorship in the USA, it is imperative that focus shifts toward the improvement of physical arm function to improve survivors’ ability to RTW. This narrative review discusses the role of physical arm function and demographic disparities in breast cancer survivor RTW. Methods: Literature on physical function, arm function, and demographic disparities following breast cancer treatment and their implications for RTW is discussed. Results: The ability to RTW is a key component of recovery for breast cancer survivors, but challenges and inequalities persist. Treatment effects can induce and prolong functional disability, affecting survivors’ ability to RTW. These effects may be compounded for survivors whose occupation requires physical arm function. The RTW landscape, including the occupations survivors have, the physical function required for job tasks, and availability of workplace accommodations, is also unclear. Additional demographic disparities (e.g., income, live in rural area) exist, but the extent to which these factors influence RTW is not well understood. More work is needed to understand the compounded impact of treatment effects, demographic disparities, and occupational factors on RTW. Multidisciplinary rehabilitation that includes occupational counseling and exercise is a promising approach, but widespread adoption in the US healthcare model presents an ongoing challenge. Areas for further research are highlighted. Conclusion: There is an incomplete understanding of the effects of treatment on physical arm function and the role of demographic disparities on breast cancer survivor RTW.
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