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  • Dr Bernard Yew | Medical Director at PAM OH Solutions

World Cancer Day: How to support employees with cancer

Female cancer patient working at office, talking with workmate

With someone in the UK now diagnosed with cancer every 90 seconds, find out what employers can do to support those affected.


One in two people in the UK are now expected to develop cancer in their lifetime, with someone diagnosed with cancer every 90 seconds.


Although cancer is protected under the Equality Act, seven out of ten of those affected are afraid to discuss this at work, primarily due to fear of losing their job. This means they might not be getting the support they need to prepare for and recover from cancer treatment.


Dr Bernard Yew, our medical director, believes employers need to take a more proactive approach, so here are his top tips for writing a cancer policy and supporting those affected.

1. Make it ‘safe’ to discuss cancer


Despite significant improvements in cancer survival, seven out of ten employees remain reluctant to tell their colleagues that they have cancer - even though the vast majority of those who did open up found the support they needed was there once they asked for it.


This means it’s not enough for employers to have cancer support in place, they also need to openly discuss cancer so that anyone affected feels safe coming forward. Critical to this is including the topic in wellbeing days, training managers to have supportive conversations with those affected and having a dedicated cancer policy in place.



2. Put in place a cancer policy


Having a dedicated cancer policy will not only enhance your reputation as a caring employer, but also help you meet your legal responsibilities, under the Equality Act, and ensure a consistent approach. It can also reassure employees that they won’t be discriminated against and manage expectations about what can and can’t be done.


For example, if someone’s cancer becomes terminal, or they become too unwell to work, they might need to be directed towards income protection or retired on grounds of ill health. If everyone knows what the process is from the outset, this will become less difficult to discuss further down the line if the individual isn’t responding well to treatment.



Download our quick guide to writing a cancer policy to find out more about what to include in your cancer policy.

3. Support people before and after treatment


Research shows that ‘prehabilitation’ – helping people to improve fitness and lifestyle before cancer treatment or surgery – can significantly reduce side effects and enhance recovery. Despite the benefits, the NHS often doesn’t have capacity to offer this, so if you have access to Occupational Health, make sure employees are referred as soon as possible.


Similarly, cancer treatments can also trigger other conditions, such as menopause and musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, meaning employees will also need to be supported as they come out the other side of cancer. Meaning it’s important to think about their entire recovery journey and allocate a case manager to support them through each stage of this.



4. Make reasonable adjustments


Cancer is protected under the Equality Act, meaning you are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments that might put the individual at a disadvantage because of their cancer otherwise. This might be the opportunity to start work later, if medication makes them feel sleepy in the morning, or work from home for a time, if they are at increased risk of infection.


Critical to making these adjustments is getting the manager to fill in a detailed referral about what the employee is struggling, or might struggle, to do. An Occupational Health Advisor (OHA) can then consider this in the context of their particular health concerns and workplace, to suggest recommendations that will work for both the employer and employee.



5. Make use of additional funding


As cancer is automatically classified as a disability, employers might also be able to utilize Access to Work funding. These grants fund practical support to allow the employee to continue to work. Such as mental health support to cope with the emotional turmoil of cancer, to paid for transport if the infection risks associated with catching their bus is too high.


Macmillan Cancer Support also offers financial support with wigs and dental treatment, while state benefits can help with the cost of everything from prescriptions to housing costs. Connect employees with a Welfare Advisor, via your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or Citizens Advice, before they start treatment, so they can see what’s available.


Case Study: Ruby helped to recover from ovarian cancer


When Ruby, a 50-year-old full time quality inspector was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she required two major surgeries to remove her womb and ovaries.


Prior to her treatment, she was referred into PAM OH Solutions by her manager to plan her return to work. She was anticipated to be experiencing fatigue throughout a six-week phased return, so was given additional small breaks and time off for medical appointments.


After surgery, her dedicated case manager found she had no cognitive issues but was struggling to return to her usual pace of work, resulting in reduced confidence. This was rectified by connecting her with psychological support, via the NHS cancer services, and additional training and updates after any time out of the office.


As a result, Ruby was successfully rehabilitated, and a valuable member of staff retained. Although she is currently in remission, there is a plan in place to take into the account of a possible relapse and time off for further treatment.


If you would like to discuss supporting a member of staff affected by cancer at your organisation, please email us on


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