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Madrid, 04 February 2020.  On the occasion of World Cancer Day, MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid and Cigna España have presented ‘Cancer in the company: Practical Notes for Human Resources,’ a guide that covers a wide range of recommendations to support organisations in the development of comprehensive cancer management policies. Thus the document offers various guidelines aimed at the management of employees living with cancer, both as patients and as family members. It also proposes several initiatives aimed at preventing risk factors.

This guide was presented at an event held in Madrid this morning, with the participation of various medical specialists in the field of Oncology and Business Medicine, as well as Human Resources managers from some of the leading Spanish companies. These experts have highlighted the importance of developing comprehensive cancer management programmes in the Spanish business world, given the high prevalence of cases in people of working age and the extraordinary importance of companies as promoters of healthy living habits.

In this regard, and according to data from the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) 1, 38% of people diagnosed with cancer in 2018 were under 65. However, according to the study  Cancer in the company. 2020 perspectives,’ prepared by Cigna España and MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, there is a low level of implementation of this type of programme in the corporate environment: only 16% of medium and large Spanish companies have comprehensive cancer management policies and only 20% offer specific prevention programmes.

For all these reasons, ‘Cancer in the company: Practical Notes for Human Resources’ seeks to promote the definition of comprehensive policies and action plans in organisations regarding the management, standardisation and prevention of cancer, by providing Human Resources professionals and company medical services with a series of recommendations adapted to the four key moments in the approach to cancer in the company: pre-diagnosis, diagnosis, medical treatment and return to work.

As indicated by Dr Isabel López Cotorruelo, Medical Director of Cigna España, “Organisations should take an active and positive role, accompanying the affected employee throughout the cancer process. Therefore, we want to strengthen the role of the Human Resources department and the company's medical services as promoters of this change.”  An idea also shared by Cigna Human Resources Director Ana Romeo, who emphasises that “from the moment of diagnosis, the particularities of each of the stages experienced by a person living with cancer fully affect various aspects of his or her personal and professional life, so it is essential to generate a corporate culture of support while focusing on prevention.”

For his part, Dr Santiago González, Medical Director of MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, notes that “we already have enough scientific evidence to causally associate obesity with at least nine types of cancer and know that its impact on incidence is about 450,000 cases of cancer per year worldwide.”

Accompaniment from the company throughout the oncological process

One of the proposals developed in this document is the importance of anticipating the diagnosis of cancer. In this preparation, the value of having a protocol of action that includes, in a simple, direct and practical way, the procedure to be followed when a person communicates that he or she has cancer, reducing the margin of uncertainty as much as possible, stands out. It is also key to have a management training programme, to create an impact management manual or to implement awareness initiatives that help to raise awareness about the challenges of an oncological process.

For its part, both at the time the employee reports a cancer diagnosis and throughout the medical-occupational treatment, it is key that the company provides psychological support and various tools to help build a strategy for healthy and positive emotional management. It is also very important to facilitate reconciliation and flexibility measures that allow employees to reconcile treatment with their personal and professional lives.

In this line, Marta de la Fuente, head of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid Psycho-Oncology Service, recommends “encouraging appropriate management and emotional self-regulation in workers. Anticipatory fears can significantly block, interfere and paralyse patients and their family. We must help them to assess whether they have resources for managing their fears and unpleasant emotions, since it is important that they work with their internal dialogue, their irrational thoughts and by training in cognitive techniques.”

Likewise, the return to work is a key moment, since it is a great opportunity for individuals to regain control of their daily lives and stop identifying with the role of patient. For this reason, the company must contribute to the progressive reincorporation and adapt to the needs of the employee through a monitoring programme agreed by both parties.

Support for employees with cancer in their immediate environment

A diagnosis of cancer does not only affect the person who receives it but also his or her immediate environment. For this reason, in the event that it is a family member of an employee who is diagnosed with cancer, it is essential that the company implements a series of measures designed to accompany the worker throughout this process.

Among these, the guide ‘Cancer in the company: Practical Notes for Human Resources’ highlights the value of developing a specialised programme of psychological support, introducing measures to reconcile work and family life and flexible working hours or reviewing the social benefits policy to adapt it to the employee's new situation.

Risk factor prevention, an opportunity to reduce the impact of cancer

The World Health Organisation (WHO)2 points out that at least a third of all cancer cases are preventable. For this reason, setting up a cancer risk factor prevention strategy is one of the most effective actions that companies can take to help minimise the impact of cancer on their employees and should be considered an investment in health.

Some of the axes on which organisations can pivot these prevention initiatives are related to the pillars of health and well-being, such as the importance of following a healthy diet, adequate rest, regular physical exercise and the prevention and management of stress. But it is also important to implement early detection campaigns, medical check-ups or vaccinations and to promote programmes that help employees to stop smoking.

The guide ‘Cancer in the company: Practical Notes for Human Resources’ is available for downloading at this link.