Employers should proactively educate staff about cancer risks and symptoms

430 Dr Pixie

Employee Benefits Connect 2016: Employers can support employees affected by cancer by improving education around risk factors and what steps can be taken to mitigate these.

Speaking in a session titled ‘Stepping up the fight against corporate cancer’ at Employee Benefits Connect on 9 March, Dr Pixie McKenna explained that obesity will soon overtake smoking as the primary risk factor for cancer. Employees should therefore be encouraged to exercise regularly, and employers should support staff by ensuring that they are able to take the time to do so.

There are 700,000 people living and working with cancer, and with 40% making significant life changes because of cancer and 29% of long-term sickness claims due to cancer, this clearly has a significant impact on employees and employers. Organisations can proactively support their staff by ensuring that they are educated about cancer risks and how to reduce these, and by increasing awareness of cancer symptoms so that staff seek appropriate medical attention as early as possible.

Dr Pixie (pictured) said: “You need to act before your employees get the diagnosis.

“Half of us will hear the words ‘you have cancer’ at some point in our lives. We all need to be ready.”

Employers can also provide support for the practical, physical and psychological impact of cancer, both for those coping with cancer themselves and for the family and colleagues of those affected, said Dr Pixie.

She added: “There are some really practical things [employees might have to think about] within an office; they might have to wear a wig, they might have a colostomy bag or a they might have a catheter, how do they manage all of that? Where are they getting their support?”

A more proactive approach to health, wellbeing and lifestyle choices should be taken to help reduce cancer risks, said Phil Austin, managing director at Cigna UK HealthCare Benefits, who spoke alongside Dr Pixie at the conference session. This will involve thinking differently about the ways in which cancer in the workplace is addressed, he added.

Almost half (46%) of cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, so an increased focused on innovative and faster diagnostics could increase instances of early cancer detection and help to improve survival rates.

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Austin said: “Firstly, we have to address [cancer] early in terms of how we look after our employees from a health and wellbeing standpoint, and the second piece [to focus on] is around diagnostics and faster treatment. If we can do that then we can work together to tackle this.

“Costs are going up, claims funds are going up and this is a big issue for corporates around absenteeism and the cost of private medical insurance, so we have to tackle this from all the different angles.”