Cancer doesn’t discriminate; it can affect anyone, including those in your workforce. With over 750,000 people of working age living with a cancer diagnosis today, and estimates projecting more than 1.1 million by 2030, it’s crucial to recognise the impact in the workplace.

Health insurance data reveals that cancer is the leading cause of long-term sickness, underscoring the need for comprehensive support systems. However, despite the increasing prevalence, there remains a lack of awareness about the potential implications of cancer at work. We were recently invited to the Maggie’s Centre in Oldham to take part in the Cancer in Workplace workshop, and it was so interesting that we needed to share what we learned, to help spread the word.

Role of Work

For many individuals facing cancer, work plays a crucial role beyond that of generating income. It provides an individual with a sense of normality, security, structure, purpose, and improves self-esteem, which can be protective against thoughts of low self-worth and depression. Recognising the importance of work in the lives of patients underscores the need for supportive workplace environments.

Cancer in the workplace

Understand the Issues

Cancer’s impact extends beyond the individual diagnosed; it affects families, friends, caregivers, and colleagues. The complexities of cancer pose significant challenges, both physical and mental. Treatment schedules, follow-up appointments, and side effects will disrupt work routines and require compromises. In addition, external factors such as the cost of living crisis further compound these challenges, affecting diagnosis, treatment, and a patient’s emotional well-being.

Treatment and Side Effects

Cancer treatment typically involve a combination of therapies, which can include; radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and biotherapies. As you can imagine, these treatments can lead to various side effects; from physical symptoms like hair loss and fatigue to cognitive problems; “chemo brain” (which can appear in the form of short term memory loss, mental fogginess, fatigue, confusion etc). Research suggests that 17-70% of patients treated with chemotherapy or other drugs may develop cognitive problems. Additionally, emotional side effects, such as anxiety, depression, and loss of confidence, further impact an individual’s well-being.

Communication and Support

Effective communication between employers and employees is essential throughout their cancer journey. From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, keeping lines of communication open encourages an understanding and allows necessary accommodations to be implemented.

  • Before treatment; Discussing next steps and potential work adjustments is crucial
  • During treatment; Maintaining regular communication helps employers understand individual needs
  • Post-treatment; A structured return-to-work plan can facilitate a smooth transition back to the workplace
  • Ongoing communication ensures continued support and accommodation as needed
Cancer: Support

Navigate Cancer Together

Supporting employees through their cancer journey requires a multifaceted approach. Employers can create a supportive workplace culture by raising awareness, offering resources, and implementing flexible policies. By understanding the challenges individuals face and providing tailored support, organisations can empower employees to navigate cancer in the workplace with dignity and resilience. Together, we can ensure that nobody faces cancer alone, especially in the workplace!

One massive piece of advice we would give to people with Cancer in their lives. Whether it was themselves or a loved one suffering, would be to contact their local Maggie’s Centre. They provide free expert advice and support from their centres across the UK and online. With specialists, psychologists and benefits advisors they’re there to answer all your questions. Each centre is a welcoming space full of kind and supporting people who can provide the help you need, or just sit with you for a while and have a brew.