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Employers Tackle Cancer's Workplace Challenges
Early detection and prompt treatment preserve quality of life and reduce costs

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  4/1/2014
 

Cancer costs employers in the U.S. about $19,000 annually per 100 employees in lost work time and medical treatments, according to new research findings by the nonprofit Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI).

Specifically, lost work time and underperformance at work (presenteeism) due to cancer costs employers $10,000 per 100 workers, while medical and pharmacy treatments cost about $9,100, IBI found.

Employees with cancer are absent 3.8 more days per year than workers without cancer, and they lose the equivalent of 1.8 more days per year due to presenteeism.

According to the American Cancer Society, there were about 524 new cancer cases per 100,000 people in the U.S. in 2013, and, at any given time, about a quarter of employees with a history of cancer are in treatment.

Employees with cancer also have an average of approximately four other conditions that complicate care management strategies, IBI researchers noted. In terms of their impact on productivity, the most serious co-morbid conditions are depression, chronic fatigue, obesity, anxiety, chronic back or neck pain, high cholesterol and hypertension.

“At a basic, human level, a cancer diagnosis is a frightening, sometimes emotionally devastating, event," IBI President Tom Parry told SHRM Online. “Many employees with cancer will frequently feel too sick to work, while others report that remaining on the job keeps them ‘connected’ and provides a sense of routine as they undergo treatment.”

Wellness Promotion, Screenings and Accommodations

Tobacco use is perhaps the best-known cause of cancer, but other unhealthy behaviors are linked to the disease as well, including heavy use of alcohol, poor nutrition, physical inactivity and unhealthy body weight.

“Fortunately, many employers provide wellness and disease management benefits that can promote healthy lifestyles, and facilitate early detection and prompt treatment,” said Perry. “This not only helps preserve quality of life for people with cancer, but also reduces the social and organizational costs of cancers in the workforce.”

Parry identified the following advantages of workplace-based cancer screening and job accommodations:

  • Compliance rates with cancer screening guidelines are highest when there is access through insurance plan coverage.

  • Workplace educational programs have been shown to raise awareness of, and screenings for, colorectal cancer.

  • Workplace screening for breast cancer reduces lost productivity.

  • Employees whose breast cancer is detected early through on-site mammography experience half as many lost workdays for treatment as employees whose cancer is detected later.

  • Providing job accommodations or other workplace stay-at-work or return-to-work opportunities helps employees with cancer remain on the job.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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