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16 Sep 2021

How can we most effectively tackle the growing impact of cancer on our workforce?

Cancer will affect one in two people, making it vitally important that everything is in place to manage this common (and increasingly ‘chronic’) condition. However, the long-term support provided to people with cancer has required additional funding, and innovation for many years. Charities such as Macmillan, which has been spearheading this movement, have highlighted the gap in service provision for decades, with cancer patients describing a sense of ‘abandonment’ once their treatment ends.


“There are still those who survive their cancers but are lost in transition, who do not get the care they need, who find the healthcare system confusing and uncoordinated, and who continue to suffer with the late and long-term effects of curative cancer treatments.” Going Beyond Being Lost in Transition: A Decade of Progress in Cancer Survivorship (2019) J Clin Oncol.

Recently, Covid-19 has sky-rocketed cancer to the top of the agenda and the front of our newspapers. With increasing pressure on healthcare systems, a significant reduction in charitable funding, and the acceleration of digital adoption, the pandemic has forced the need for new thinking within long-term cancer care.

The many oncologists and cancer surgeons who contribute to our Medical Advisory Council warn of the increasing urgency for accessible, effective, long-term support for people with cancer (beyond their routine hospital care). This urgency is driven by a number of converging events resulting from two key forces; scientific advancements in cancer treatment plus the changing expectations of consumers.

Scientific advancements

The scientific community is making continued, rapid advances in the screening and treatment of cancer. Through comprehensive screening programmes more people are being diagnosed earlier, and with new treatments, survival rates are increasing. Figures from Cancer Research UK show that 50% of people diagnosed with cancer live more than 10 years beyond their diagnosis. As a result, cancer is being reclassified as a chronic condition.

In turn, the cost and duration of cancer therapy is significantly increasing as expensive but effective novel therapies are introduced. One person’s treatment can wipe out an entire health cash plan, meaning insurers (and employers) will need to review the cancer cover they provide in the future.

Changing expectations of consumers

Over the last year virtual care has been rapidly adopted. In the future, digitally-native generations will be accessing cancer care with a higher expectation of personalisation and convenience.

Coupled with a massive growth in targeted employee benefits to address complex or chronic conditions such as mental health, menopause and diabetes, there will be a rising expectation for sensitive, effective support for employees with cancer. 

Presently there is little-to-no support focused on helping employees to remain in or return to work, even for those with comprehensive medical insurance. This is despite predictions that a greater proportion of the workforce will be impacted by cancer in the future, and an estimated £5.3 billion in lost productivity can be attributed to cancer in the UK alone, according to The Cost of Cancer (2010) by Policy Exchange.

The next generation of cancer support

Well-coordinated, multimodal therapy (delivered by nurses, physiotherapists, dietitians and other cancer specialists) is the gold-standard; proven to accelerate return to work and prevent long-term complications.

It is no longer enough to simply help employees navigate the maze of fragmented support available through the NHS, private healthcare providers or charities. If we are to truly reduce the impact of cancer on employees and their families, they need access to a wide range of cancer support services focused on rehabilitation and recovery from a physical, psychological and social perspective.

“Modern cancer care for the three million people living with cancer is just as much about services outside of the hospital as it is about acute treatment.” Caught in the Maze Report, Macmillan (2021).

If provided virtually, geographical barriers are dissolved and in turn employees can reduce the time-off needed to attend appointments. There are many validated tools to capture quality of life and symptom-specific data being used within the clinical setting that can now be applied to longer-term follow-up, including in the workplace. These can help to monitor and support those impacted by cancer, and provide valuable data to drive continued innovation within this space.

Employers  have begun to put pressure on providers of cancer support (and other chronic conditions) via employee benefits programmes to be accountable for their clinical outcomes, as opposed to simply focusing on engagement or utilisation. We are on the cusp of a revolution in the long-term support we provide for cancer. This will require collaboration from the private, public and third sector – with progressive employers leading the charge.

This article is provided by Perci Health.

Perci Health will be exhibiting at this year’s live and in-person Employee Wellbeing Congress on 30 September. Find out more and register to attend.

In partnership with Perci Health

Perci Health is the first digital platform bridging the gap between cancer and wellness.

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