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Madrid, 07 November 2019. According to the latest figures released by the Spanish Cancer Association, almost four out of every 10 people diagnosed with cancer in 2018 were less than 65 years old. Because of the high incidence of cancer in working-age people, any human resources department that works up a comprehensive cancer policy holds a highly useful strategy for preventing and handling cancer cases on the workforce. However, as shown by the joint study conducted by health insurance company Cigna España and the MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, “El cáncer en la empresa. Perspectivas 2020” (Cancer in the Company. 2020 Outlooks), the practice is rare in Spain: Only 16% of medium and large Spanish companies have such policies.

Surveys were conducted among HR executives at Spanish companies with over 50 employees, and the results reveal that 93% of the HR people questioned have experienced cases where employees have been diagnosed with cancer. However, only 73% report that their organisation is ready and able to manage such cases, while only 42% provide their employees with information about cancer.

These data, presented at the SBC Forum Madrid human resources conference, paint a picture of widespread Spanish corporate conditions:  a gradual increase in the incidence of cancer due to things like population aging, increased life expectancy and medical advances that enable new cases to be detected early. As shown by the latest estimates from the Spanish Medical Oncology Society (Sociedad Española de Oncología Médica, or SEOM) in its report “Las cifras del Cáncer en España 2019” (“2019 Cancer Figures in Spain”), at the close of 2019 277,234 new cases had been detected, 12% more than in 2015.

Of the total number of survey participants who had seen employee cancer cases, 79% of them took some special measure to help the person cope with the situation as well as possible, and 74% facilitated tools so that the rest of the workforce could treat the situation correctly. The measures taken focused primarily on:  regular communications with the employee with cancer (78%); flexible working hours, with an option to work from home (74%); reassignment or redistribution of secondary tasks to another employee (67%) and a gradual return to work (61%).

However, even where programmes like this exist, survey participants acknowledged that the efficacy of the measures taken could be improved (they gave programmes an average of seven out of 10 points). In addition, there is a great deal of room for improvement in terms of internal communications about measures of this sort, since only 44% of companies take active measures to make the programmes known within the company.

Only 20% offer prevention policies specifically targeting cancer

The data in “El cáncer en la empresa. Perspectivas 2020” show that 83% of companies offer some kind of benefit focused on fostering an active lifestyle and healthy eating. In addition, 78% offer company medical insurance, and 84% have at some time had programmes to raise awareness about the importance of annual check-ups.

According to Isabel López Cotorruelo, medical director of Cigna España, “Companies have got to take an active role in promoting health by furnishing access to the information and tools employees need to take care of themselves, with the goal of increasing awareness of the fact that a healthy lifestyle helps prevent lots of diseases, including cancer.”

And yet, when asked if they have ever taken any specific initiatives to prevent cancer, 73% say they have not, 7% are in the process of offering some kind of initiative, and only 20% have cancer prevention initiatives up and running.

The experts say the corporate sector lacks awareness

According to the study by Cigna España and the MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, 84% are aware that work is a very important steadying force for cancer patients. However, they feel that organisations are generally not highly aware of the importance of dealing with cancer at the workplace (48% feel this way).

For them, psychological support from the employer is key. So, in their professional opinion, setting up a psychological programme on how to cope with cancer is an excellent idea (82%), and raising employee awareness of cancer is a very important part of dealing with cancer cases (78%).

“Companies can do a lot to improve quality of life for employees who are involved in a process with cancer. Work is a focus of concern for patients, and it’s important to address it and reduce their anxiety. For all these reasons, understanding, emotional support, communication and flexibility are valued a lot by employees with cancer and their relatives”, says Marta de la Fuente, who runs the Psycho-oncology Department at the MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid.

The study also reaffirms the idea of the importance of management:  Nine out of every 10 believe that management is the first part of the company that should become more aware of the issue. What’s more, 78% think it would be a good idea to introduce a management training programme on good practices in awareness with respect to employees with serious illnesses.

Another measure they feel important is to create a handbook with information on the physical and psychological circumstances and challenges of employees diagnosed with cancer (78%) or on how to act and behave in such cases (75%).

And what about cases where an employee has a relative with cancer?

Human resources executives agree (81%) that the company should provide support for all employees who have close relatives with cancer, but only 54% feel their company is ready and able to manage such cases flexibly in a manner adapted to the circumstances, and only 7% have predefined policies of support for situations like these.

It makes for a sharp contrast with the incidence of situations of this type. The fact is that almost all those surveyed (94%) have seen such episodes. The procedure in the vast majority of cases was to offer flexible hours or the option of working from home (82%) and to stay in touch regularly with the employee as a way of accompanying the employee through his or her personal process (77%).


This analysis was made on the basis of 135 interviews of human resources executives belonging to companies with more than 50 employees, in economic sectors including financial services, health, agriculture, trade, construction, education and public administration. The survey was conducted in the first half of 2019 through the Spanish Association of Human Resources Executives (Asociación Española de Directivos de Recursos Humanos, or AEDRH).