Integrating Cancer Support Into Your Holistic Wellbeing Strategy

Close-up of psychiatrist hands together holding palm of her patient. comforts an anxious depression patient for medical treatment in diagnostic room, PTSD Mental health concept

Like diabetes or heart disease, for many of those affected cancer is a chronic condition requiring ongoing medical attention, but one which often allows them to continue working, either during or after treatment. In fact, remaining in or returning to work after cancer treatment can provide an important sense of stability and normality, as well as much needed financial support.

However, those living with and beyond cancer frequently need focused healthcare support to deal with the long-term effects of treatment and make the transition back to the workplace. Understanding how cancer affects employees and knowing how to support them has never been more important from an employer perspective, but is an area which is currently poorly understood and managed.

How many people in the workplace are impacted by cancer?

Huge strides in the screening, diagnosis and treatment of cancer have been made over the past 10 years or so, yet around 20 million people globally are currently living with cancer – a number expected to increase to close to 30 million by 2040, according to the GLOBOCAN 2020 cancer database.

Overall, cancer survival rates continue to improve due to factors such as earlier diagnosis and improved treatments. This means that the number of people living with cancer who are of working age in the UK is also rising, standing at around 900,000 today – a figure that cancer charity Macmillan Cancer Support estimates will reach 1.15 million by 2030.

Meanwhile, a further 700,000 people are thought to be juggling work with caring for someone with cancer, the true impact of which only started to become clear to employers once Covid-19 restrictions came into effect in 2020. Employees were having to explain that they were caring for or shielding loved ones or themselves, affecting their capability to work.

What types of support do employers offer to employees with cancer?

Less than 15% of UK employers provide some form of private medical insurance (PMI) for their staff. PMI typically provides cover for treatment of acute conditions, with the larger costs of chronic conditions prohibitive for many.

Many employers mistakenly believe their policies cover everything needed during and after cancer treatment, or that such services are provided by the NHS. Understanding precisely which treatments are available through their PMI also presents a minefield for employers and ‘all inclusive’ policies rarely cover the full scope of treatments needed by recovering individuals.

The reality is that cancer support (public or private) largely drops off once primary treatment (surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy) has been completed – a time at which many patients describe a sense of abandonment. There is a growing band of employers wanting to do more, however, to provide the best support they can to their workforce during and after cancer. So how should they go about this?

The benefits of including cancer in your wellbeing strategy

Think tank Demos’ recent report Cancer Costs revealed the cost of cancer to the UK economy to be at least £7.6 billion a year in lost wages and benefits. Including support for cancer in employer wellbeing strategies could, therefore, have multiple benefits for both employers and employees, including better employee engagement and productivity, and fewer days lost due to absence – all contributing to a positive result for employers and happier, healthier employees.

Catering for those with cancer should be part of any holistic wellbeing workplace strategy, as is the case with other targeted employee benefits addressing complex or chronic conditions such as mental health illnesses and diabetes. In developing a wellbeing strategy, employers should consider the following:

  1. Prevention – by promoting cancer screening programmes and providing education about cancer and how lifestyle changes can lower cancer risk.
  2. Policy development – clarifying the rights of diagnosed employees, as well as those caring for loved ones with cancer – from flexible working options, sickness payments, to communicating extended absences – demonstrate a conscientious employer.
  3. Training – understanding the cancer journey, knowing how and when to be sensitive and respectful, and being aware of their company’s cancer resources can help managers in particular feel more confident in supporting staff during and after cancer treatment.
  4. PMI – having a thorough understanding of your PMI package and what it covers during primary cancer treatment, as well as after, will help to identify gaps in care provision.
  5. Tailoring support – long-lasting effects such as fatigue, mental health problems, pain, body image changes and lymphoedema should all be considered when tailoring support packages which will allow employees affected by cancer to make successful workplace transitions.

You can find out more about Perci Health here.

You might also be interested in this Leading Practice Paper which was written by Perci Health and produced by Make A Difference. You can download this free here.


Join our growing network of employers
Receive Make A Difference News straight to your inbox




Sign up to receive Make A Difference's fortnightly round up of features, news, reports, case studies, practical tools and more for employers who want to make a difference to work culture, mental health and wellbeing.