Workplace health strategies can reduce cancer risk

Friday, February 10, 2023
workplace health strategies can reduce cancer risk

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and the prevention of cancer has become a significant public health challenge. In the context of World Cancer Day 2023, International SOS encourages organisations to take part in recognising the impact cancer has on anyone affected and to contribute to the implementation of cancer prevention strategies in their workplaces. 

In 2021, an estimated 20 million people were diagnosed with cancer, and 10 million died1. These numbers will continue to rise in the decades ahead, however, at least 40% of all cancer cases reported could be prevented with effective primary prevention measures2. The workplace can be a key setting for implementing efforts to reduce cancer risk among the working population. Individuals can spend around 30% of their day in the workplace and may be exposed to hazardous materials, including cigarette smoke. The workplace may also inadvertently lead to inactivity and poor eating habits3, both of which are risk factors for cancer. 

It is vital for organisations to promote cancer prevention in their workplace and take an integrated and comprehensive approach by providing education and adopting an organisational culture through policies that influence cancer risk. 

Dr Kate O’Reilly, Medical Director at International SOS, comments, “The impact of cancer amongst the workforce is growing. Cancer is common and every organisation will have employees who experience a cancer diagnosis. When an employee is diagnosed with cancer, it affects not only the individual, but also a network of people across the organisation. It is vital that employers understand the impact of cancer on the individual employee and the organisation. Having an integrated health and wellbeing strategy that includes promoting cancer awareness and increasing access to screening and prevention activities is best practice.”

Dr O’Reilly adds “Organisations should also understand that successfully embedding holistic health and wellbeing programmes depends on leadership involvement and promoting a workplace culture that supports employees through their cancer journey. Simple workplace changes can reduce cancer risk such as providing healthy food options, promoting smoking cessation programmes and creating a culture of safe alcohol use.” 

International SOS outlines some strategies to mitigate cancer risk for employees and how organisations can strengthen their workplace support:

1. Education on cancer risks: By providing education about cancer risks and the symptoms to look for, organisations can empower their workforce to be proactive about their health. Demonstrating a commitment to employee health and wellbeing can also improve morale and productivity.

2. Encourage regular screening: Early diagnosis of cancer nearly always results in better treatment outcomes. Ensure employees’ health benefits cover key screenings, such as mammography and colonoscopy, but more importantly, ensure your organisation’s policy makes screenings feasible. Introduce workplace policies that enable employees to dedicate time to their health and encourage employees to take time off for their annual physical exams. 

3. Promote healthy habits: Make it easier for employees to have a healthy diet by ensuring that healthier options are available in the organisation’s cafeteria and onsite vending machines. Provide incentives like step challenges or discounted gym memberships to encourage workers to engage in regular exercise.

4. Encourage open communication: Create a supportive environment which enables conversations in the workplace about cancer prevention and detection. Managers should set aside time for regular meetings with employees to discuss any problems they might be facing and check in on their wellbeing.

5. Conduct a workplace assessment: Some jobs may also expose workers to environmental hazards, and even shift patterns can heighten the odds that a worker will develop cancer. It is important to identify potential cancer-causing agents and put in place control measures for carcinogenic hazards to reduce cancer risk at work. Modern office work may also contribute directly to three cancer risk factors, including excess body weight, diet, and physical inactivity.

6. Implement a smoke-free workplace: To protect all employees from exposure to second-hand smoke, organisations can implement policies that require a smoke-free environment. 25% of all cancer deaths are caused by tobacco use and providing employees with smoking-cessation support helps reduce the risk4.

7. Offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs): Provide cancer access within EAPs that includes a range of services such as counselling, financial planning and wellbeing options.

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