Cancer is one of the most significant illnesses of our time. Around 980 cases of cancer are diagnosed every day in the UK, that’s one person every 2 minutes.

Whilst half of all cancer cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 70, Macmillan estimates that 100,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK. There are currently more than 750,000 working age people living with cancer.

As a result most employers are going to have to manage someone affected by cancer during their working lifetime. Recent research, however, has revealed that most companies do not have any formal policies in place for communicating or managing employees living with or recovering from cancer.

A survey of 500 HR professionals carried out by cancer screening company Check4Cancer, found that 71% of companies did not have formal policies in place for dealing with employees suffering from cancer. Furthermore, 48% acknowledged that line managers were unprepared when it came to managing staff with cancer.

Perhaps more concerning, given the importance of catching cancer in the early stages, 71% said that they had no information available on cancer awareness or early detection through screening.

The problem is just as bad for employees dealing with a family member suffering from cancer.

AXA PPP found that despite over 500,000 people working in the UK whilst at the same time caring for someone with cancer, there are often little or no formal procedures in place for managers who wish to support employees through these difficult times.

According to Check4Cancer HR professionals believe that the implications of cancer in the workplace are far reaching and will have a ‘significant impact on business performance’.  However, 40% said they didn’t feel that senior executives were aware of these potential risks and costs.

Professor Gordon Wishart, Chief Medical Officer of Check4Cancer said: “Employers appear to be relying on their managers’ ability to think on their feet, and to treat cancer diagnoses as just another people management issue. Diagnosis of cancer is clearly a very serious health issue – but also one that has long-term implications for the individual and their team members, colleagues and friends in the workplace.

“The improving survival rates – 50% of patients now survive 10 years after a cancer diagnosis – mean that cancer is more like a chronic illness, requiring long-term attention and treatment, alongside appropriate support from employers as part of their duty of care, and for cancer as a recognised disability. An ageing workforce means cases of cancer will become more prevalent and have longer-term impact on organisations.”

So, what can organisations do to make sure that they are adequately prepared to deal with employees suffering from cancer or looking after others who are?

AXA PPP recommend that employers:

  • Review and revise company policies and procedures to include carers
  • Build awareness of cancer – the impact of living with the disease and caring for those who have it
  • Consider introducing flexible working arrangements for carers or those living with cancer
  • Clearly communicate available workplace support – for example confidential counselling, cancer nurse helplines and private healthcare cover
  • Ensure that workloads are fairly managed across affected teams.

Macmillan offer a draft policy document on how to approach cancer in an employee or an employee’s relative from diagnosis through treatment and recovery.

By taking time to examine policy’s for managing cancer in the workplace organisations can also consider how to help prevent it.

There are countless ways businesses can actively support their employee’s health. We’ve written about many of them on our website. For example, organisations can arrange screening for some of the more common cancers, provide leaflets informing about the causes of some cancers, raise awareness of how to spot early signs.

By taking a proactive approach to employee health and wellbeing and engaging with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of this disease, businesses can minimise the impact of cancer in the workplace