According to data from the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC), almost half (four out of ten) of the people who received a cancer diagnosis in 2018 were under 65 years old; that is, they were of working age and had to take a long-term leave. Only 16% of small and medium-sized companies are prepared for this situation, according to a study carried out jointly by the insurance company Cigna and the MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid hospital. Thus, despite the fact that almost three out of four (73%) companies claim to be able to support their workers when faced with a diagnosis of cancer, the reality is that less than 20% of small and medium-sized companies have pre-established policies for managing cancer cases.
Given this scenario, both the cancer patient and the cancer patient's family are very unprotected. Therefore, after assessing the situation, CIGNA and MD Anderson Madrid have set to work to prepare a consensus document for human resources managers which, based on a series of recommendations on how to deal with cancer in the company, aims to help these managers establish business policies capable of ensuring their workers' well-being.
With this report, both organisations seek to reduce the extra stress generated by a cancer diagnosis when it also has to be announced in the work environment. “In the company the quality of life of the workers who are in an oncological process can be improved; the occupational area is a focus of concern for the patients and it is important to address it to reduce distress," highlights Marta de la Fuente, head of the Psycho-Oncology Service in MD Anderson Madrid and one of the persons involved in the preparation of this document.
One of the most useful initiatives in the document is the setting up of a psychological programme to help these people cope. In addition, once the patient is discharged, the document recommends encouraging a gradual return to work and facilitating flexible working hours with the option of teleworking at least during the first few months.
As support tools, the text talks about the suitability of a periodic communication with the employee so that he/she feels supported by his/her company during the complicated personal process. In addition, the document proposes that companies include an offer of professional training courses for other jobs in cases where, after the illness, they cannot perform the same job they have been doing up to that time.
A whole series of key measures for the oncology patient, who considers the work environment a very important aspect, since it allows him/her to recover and/or maintain the normality of his/her daily life, depending on the moment of the process. Therefore, to make this return to routine as easy as possible, companies must be the first to be aware of and sensitised to this illness.
Beyond the management of cancer cases among their workers, the study led by these two organisations points out that the human resources departments of companies should also have among their objectives the promotion of healthy lifestyle habits and the prevention of risk factors for the development of diseases. Due to their incidence, these prevention programmes should include cancer among their priorities, something that does not yet occur in most companies.
The development of policies such as these will ensure that the communication of a cancer diagnosis in the work environment does not represent an extra episode of stress for the patient and that the patient feels secure in the face of the possibility of dismissal and peace of mind at the prospect of having to return to work. A series of measures that will directly improve the quality of life of cancer patients and survivors and, together with greater flexibility also for their carers, will make cancer increasingly a temporary circumstance.
Marta de la Fuente, head of the Psycho-Oncology Service in MD Anderson Madrid.