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26 Jan 2023
by Chris Rofe, Kelly McCabe

The true cost of cancer – and how businesses can help employees

Focused benefits can help cancer suffers remain in or return sooner to work post-treatment – with knock on benefits for the business

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Cancer is a major driver of health cost trends. Businesses offering health and risk benefits increasingly need to understand and address the hidden costs beyond insurance claims.

Statistics suggest that one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and currently more than three million people in the UK are living with the disease, a figure set to increase to five million by 2030. Of those affected, 36% are of working age.

The good news is that, due to rapid progress in the screening, diagnosis and management of cancer survival rates are rising, with 50% of people diagnosed with cancer living more than 10 years beyond their diagnosis, according to Cancer Research UK figures.

Meanwhile, the cost and duration of cancer therapy is significantly increasing as expensive but effective novel therapies are introduced. One person’s treatment can severely affect a whole group’s insurance premiums, meaning insurers (and employers) need to monitor and review the cancer cover they provide, within the insurance policy itself and in areas such as prevention and broader support.

Direct and indirect costs of cancer

The economic burden of cancer doesn’t consist only of treatment costs as it has two components – direct and indirect costs:

  • Direct costs include all the resources necessary for prevention, treatment, and cancer care
  • Indirect costs include resources lost due to inability to work  – for both those with a cancer diagnosis and the increasing number of people caring for a loved one with cancer.

Cancer Costs, a study conducted by independent, educational charity Demos, suggested that the indirect costs of cancer to the UK economy from lost wages and benefits to be at least £7.6bn a year.

Returning to work after cancer treatment has historically provided many living with, and beyond, cancer a sense of stability and normality that they crave, as well as much needed financial support. 

Through more effective treatment and management of the condition, those affected are able to return to the workforce earlier, benefiting not only the patient but also their family and society overall.

A gap in treatment and support

Beyond diagnosis and treatment there is a gap in service provision, with cancer patients describing a sense of “abandonment” once treatment ends. This suggests an increasing urgency for accessible, effective, long-term support for cancer sufferers (beyond routine hospital care) driven by scientific advancements in treatment plus the changing expectations of consumers.

A recent systematic review concluded that fear of cancer progression, treatment disruption, as well as fear of Covid-19 infection and isolation, have led to increased levels of psychological distress, anxiety and depression among cancer patients globally over the past two years.

At present, there is little support focusing on helping employees 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 affected by cancer in the years ahead.

Well-coordinated, multimodal therapy (delivered by nurses, physiotherapists, dietitians, and other cancer specialists) is proven to accelerate return to work and prevent long-term complications. Reducing the impact of cancer on employees and their families requires a wide range of support services focused on rehabilitation and recovery from a physical, psychological and social perspective.

If these services are provided virtually, geographical barriers are dissolved and, in turn, employees can reduce the time off needed for appointments. There are many validated tools available to capture quality of life and symptom-specific data being used within the clinical setting that can be applied to longer-term follow-up, including in the workplace.

The role of the employer

Employers have started 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 use.

Businesses can take steps to support employees with cancer, as well as cancer carers, in returning to the workplace. How well the physical, psychological and social wellbeing needs of cancer patients are met can determine whether their transition back to work will be successful or not.

1. Speak with employees affected by cancer to understand what their needs are to return to the workplace confidently from both a physical and mental perspective.

2. Have a clear understanding of the treatments and support offered from across your employee benefits programme, including private medical, group income protection. This will help to identify any potential gaps in care provision.

3. Consider taking an active, innovative role in improving access for employees to crucial cancer support services by partnering with or signposting to expert providers in this area.

This article has been written in partnership with Perci Health. Lockton is running a webinar with Perci Health on 2 February 2023 as part of World Cancer Day on The true cost of cancer in the workplaceFind out more.

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