COVID-19 has been high on the priority list for businesses this year, but many other critical illnesses remain as prevalent as ever. Cancer hasn’t gone away. According to cancer charity Breast Cancer Now, there are 55,200 new cases of breast cancer in the UK alone.
The charity warned in September that nearly one million women in the UK have missed vital breast screening due to the pandemic. Women are failing to follow up on symptoms because they are anxious about seeing their GP or attending a hospital or treatment centre for tests.
Meanwhile, LV= reported a 45% drop in critical illness claims in April. There have been fewer urgent cancer referrals, fewer cancer treatments and fewer outpatient appointments.
This understandable yet concerning trend has led to fears that there may be many undiagnosed cases of breast cancers which in pre-COVID times, would have been treated.
“Women with symptoms are at risk if they do not seek health advice and treatment,” says Rachel Western, principal at Aon.
Most employers already do an excellent job of raising awareness of a number of health issues, but employers now need to adapt their advice and reach out to women in the workforce through targeted communications to ensure they are continuing to check themselves for symptoms and encouraging them to follow up on any symptoms or concerns.
Research carried out by Breast Cancer Now shows 1 in 10 women admitted never checking their breasts at all and 41 per cent said they didn’t check regularly because they forgot to do so.
“The key messages of any future breast cancer awareness campaign should also focus on the importance of self-checking,” Western explains. “Women know to check themselves, but they aren’t doing so. Raising awareness and education on the importance of self-checking is vitally important.”
Men too, can develop breast cancer and they also should be made aware of the importance of self-checking.
What can employers do?
Employers might want to consider the following as part of their long-term breast cancer awareness campaign:
- Provide easily accessible health information on company wellness hubs
- Send out targeted communications and reminders to women and men in a certain age bracket via email, smartphone or tablet
- Arrange for a specialist nurses to come into the office a few days a year to offer one-to-one advice and education sessions
- Tap into key awareness days to remind employees of the importance of self-checking and following up on symptoms.
If a corporate provides a benefit supporting mammograms or breast checks, employers may want to send out reminders to female employees over 40 or in high risk groups, informing them of this service and outlining why it’s important.
In Western’s view, the communication angle should be about reminding employees to self-check as well as re-affirming what support is available to staff.
“Employers need to communicate all this in concise, guiding ways rather than bombarding employees with information,” says Western. “Anyone worried about a potential symptom is likely to be highly anxious and will need access to clear information that signposts them to the appropriate channels. The wait between testing, diagnosis and treatment is likely to be the longest of their lives, so it’s important they know what support is available be it a remote GP service, a direct access pathway through a medical insurer, a mammogram through a health screen or occupational health provider.”
- Remind employees about the importance of self-checking
- Reaffirm existing treatments and services available through workplace health benefits
- Encourage employees to seek clinical support and treatment where appropriate
- Provide clear and guiding communication in easily accessible formats
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