By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits
“The number of corporates now offering education, awareness and screening for cancer is increasing exponentially, in our experience,” says Professor Gordon Wishart – CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Check4Cancer, a leading early cancer detection company and one of Generali UK’s Wellbeing Investment Matching partners. “I think employers are increasingly aware that they need to protect their workforce; that their workforce is precious. And that one of the ways of protecting their people is by offering cancer screening.”
In line with this, it’s worth noting that cancer, along with mental illness claims, represents approximately half of all our Group Income Protection claims submitted in recent years.
This perhaps comes as no surprise when you consider the well-worn statistic that 1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. So, with this in mind, what is the current state of cancer care in the UK? And, considering the very likely potential that all workplaces will be impacted by cancer at some point, how can employers best support their workforces?
Current state of UK cancer care
Although cancer treatment is ever-improving, evidence shows that the prognosis is much better where cancer is diagnosed at an early stage.
Right now though, NHS wait times for a diagnosis remain problematic in many areas, with missed targets for referrals, diagnosis and treatment. For example, 74.0% actual performance against a target of 93% on ‘two week wait for all cancers’. And 70.8% actual performance against a target of 93% on ‘Two week wait for symptomatic breast patients (where cancer was not initially suspected). This is based on latest NHS monthly (Sept 2023) performance data at the time of writing.
The other, equally important, side of this coin is prevention of course.
There are around 1,000 new cancer cases in the UK every day, according to latest available data from Cancer Research UK (2016-2018). But around 400 of those cancers (a day) are preventable, says Professor Wishart.
His assertion is based on estimates by Cancer Research UK and the World Cancer Research Fund, that around 40% of all cancers, in the UK and worldwide, are potentially preventable, because they are closely linked to lifestyle factors such as diet, smoking, alcohol and sunburn.
“One of the most disappointing things I find, is that for a country [the UK] that has done so much for cancer research and services, we have one of the worst cancer survival rates in developed countries.* And the worst cancer survival rates in the G7,” adds Professor Wishart. “And right now, with the increase in NHS waiting times for diagnosis and treatment, we really need to focus on how we can improve cancer survival in the UK.”
How can employers best support their workforces?
First, employers should take stock of the services to which they might already have access, via existing products and services such as Group Income Protection. For example, salary protection in the event of long-term sickness absence, access to proactive and early Vocational Rehabilitation support to ensure employees are supported to return to work in a way that is sustainable, plus access to services like virtual GPs, employee assistance programmes and second medical opinion services.
Employers may also want to speak with Group Income Protection providers about how they might help with any wellbeing services they’ve identified a specific need for.
At Generali UK Employee Benefits, for example, we will help employers part or fully fund specific services via our Wellbeing Investment Matching initiative; and associated network or specialist partners. That includes Check4Cancer, which specialises in cancer prevention and early detection.
Professor Wishart says there are several elements that employers should consider.
For a start, employee education about signs, symptoms and risk factors. “It’s really important that people are aware of the risk factors for common cancers. So they can try to take responsibility for their own health and reduce their risk,” he adds.
“Then, as part of any cancer prevention strategy, cancer screening is really important. That’s because screening doesn’t just pick up cancers, it also picks up a number of conditions that are at a precancerous stage. These conditions can then be treated to prevent them going on to develop into cancer. The cervical cancer screening programme is a really good example of this in action.”
Professor Wishart continues to say that fast diagnosis represents the final piece of the jigsaw in an early cancer detection programme. “If people do get symptoms, we want to get them into a diagnostic pathway quickly and that pathway should be as short as possible. That’s why, at Check4Cancer, we provide rapid access to streamlined diagnostic cancer pathways, for breast cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer. The idea is to see people quickly. And either diagnose them quickly, or reassure them that they don’t have cancer quickly, because that waiting time can be hugely stressful.
“A combination of all these things is key to having an effective early cancer detection programme.”
The comments in this article were taken from a recent webinar hosted by Generali UK. To access a free recording of the full 30-min webinar, please email [email protected]
*This assertion was taken from the most recent large-scale data available – a study that dates back to 2019 – and is still the case according to evidence collated for this 2023 article: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/01/17/nine-10-cancer-survival-rates-worse-europe/#:~:text=UK%20survival%20rates%20lag%20behind,countries%E2%80%9D%2C%20the%20report%20said.