Here's how employers can more effectively support cancer survivors

Doctor with inpatient
A new Northeast Business Group on Health guide aims to assist employers in supporting cancer survivors. (Getty/Ridofranz)

A growing number of patients are surviving a cancer diagnosis, meaning employers must be prepared to offer a workplace that supports their specific needs.

To assist with that process, the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) has released a guide for employer benefits and human resources professionals that highlights the key challenges and opportunities in meeting the needs of cancer survivors.

Estimates suggest there will be 26.1 million cancer survivors living in the U.S. by 2040, an increase of more than 50% compared to 2019, the NEBGH said in an announcement.

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"One thing, obviously which is a great thing, that has happened: Treatments have just become so much more effective," Candice Sherman, NEBGH's CEO, told Fierce Healthcare. "What that means, of course, people are being cured and beginning to live with cancer like a chronic illness, much like they might live with diabetes and a number of other chronic illnesses."

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For one, physicians are beginning to change their recommendations around working while undergoing cancer treatment, which means there will be more people coming to work during the treatment process itself.

In addition, employers should also be thinking of ways to support other employees in the firm should a co-worker be diagnosed with cancer or die from the disease, Sherman said. The definition of "survivor" must also include caregivers, family, friends and colleagues of the patient, she said.

The guide highlights six major challenge areas where employers can assist workers who have survived cancer: physical health, mental health, financial health, wellness, family and friends and the work environment.

For example, mental health issues that may follow a cancer diagnosis include fear that the disease could return, a sense of isolation or guilt about surviving the disease. Employers can assist by providing comprehensive behavioral health benefits and directing workers to outside resources that may be valuable, such as peer support or mentorship programs.

Physical health challenges could include challenges in transitioning from oncology care to primary care, struggles in managing the side effects of treatment and issues with managing other chronic conditions.

“There are encouraging statistics that show an increase in the number of people surviving with cancer but they often don’t reveal how survivors are faring physically, mentally, socially or economically. Employers can play a key role in this experience. With more survivors active in the workforce today and in the future, the challenges and opportunities posed by cancer survivorship are important to understand and support,” said Patricia Goldsmith, CEO of CancerCare, which contributed to the guide and is leading pilot projects associated with workplace survivorship, in a statement.