30 May 2018

Supporting Cancer Survival: the crucial role businesses play, from diagnosis to rehabilitation

National Cancer Survivors Day on 3 June will highlight the importance of continual emotional and physical support for those who have survived cancer, including those still living with the disease. Almost one in two people (47%) will get cancer at some point in their lives and the number of those living with the disease is expected to rise to four million by 2030*. With so many people affected, The Health Insurance Group highlights the crucial role employers play in supporting all aspects of cancer - from early diagnosis and support, to managing the aftermath post treatment.

Utilise employee benefits

Support for cancer can be found throughout the suite of employee benefits. For instance, private medical insurance (PMI) can offer fast diagnoses, intervention and treatment, as well as information and access to UK licensed drugs that aren't currently obtainable on the NHS. Cash plans can provide financial support for diagnoses, hospital stays and rehabilitation treatments such as physiotherapy after surgery. Group protection benefits can provide financial support for people struggling to manage the impact that a cancer diagnosis can have on household finances, as well as access to second medical opinions and support from specialist oncology teams. EAPs can provide 24/7 helplines, offering medical and emotional support which can be a lifeline to individuals.

Enhancements to support are being made all the time, and the specific support available can overlap between the benefits, so it’s important to look at the detail of what’s offered within each.

Furthermore, healthcare screenings - especially comprehensive screenings that offer additional tests for older age groups - can play a vital role in detecting early symptoms of cancer. Early intervention is a key reason why cancer survival rates have more than doubled over the last 40 years**. Today, half will survive – compared to less than a quarter in the 1970s. Businesses should be encouraging employees to use their healthcare screenings, helping to diagnose potential issues early. So it’s important for employers to think about what they want to achieve with a health screening programme so they can source the right provider.

Support for others

Whilst those diagnosed with cancer can suffer, wider support networks can also be affected and are often overlooked: emotional support can also be extended to them. Teams in the workplace can suddenly have to cope with increased workloads, whilst dealing with emotional anxieties related to their colleague. Providing workshops on how to restructure teams during intense periods of cancer treatment, or supporting a returning employee after they’ve been given the all-clear, can alleviate pressures all round.

Outside of the workplace, family and friends often act as primary carers - sharing the emotional and financial burden that cancer inflicts. Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can really make a difference here, providing loved ones with independent advice and a sympathetic ear - helping to relieve pressures associated with supporting someone with cancer.

Create a healthy working culture

Research suggests that four in ten cancers are preventable largely through lifestyle choices, meaning things we can control such as smoking, drinking and exercising***. Businesses can create a working environment to promote healthier lifestyle choices. For example, introducing exercise classes at work, hosting workshops on healthy eating, and encouraging regular breaks; and even introducing initiatives such as smoking cessation programmes.

Brett Hill, Managing Director, The Health Insurance Group said: “Businesses have a crucial role to play in supporting all those affected by cancer in the workplace, from early diagnosis and intervention though to emotional support. For the individual recovering from cancer, work can play an important role in creating a sense of normality and purpose - having a significant impact on their mental health. Understanding that cancer doesn’t affect just one person, but groups of people both inside and outside the workplace, also allows businesses to provide others with the support needed to survive and thrive.”

* https://www.macmillan.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/evidence/cancer-statistics.html#260404

** http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-us/our-organisation/our-strategy-to-beat-cancer-sooner

*** http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2018/03/23/new-calculations-confirm-lifestyle-changes-could-prevent-4-in-10-cancer-cases/