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Cancer: screening by risk 

Many cancers are preventable, and many are treatable. This is hugely positive but there are, however, a couple of caveats.  

For those cancers that are preventable, the outcome depends on people knowing what action to take. For those that are treatable, the outcome depends upon people knowing that they have the cancer and being aware of this at an early enough stage. This is where the employer can play a very important role.

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The risk factors for cancer are hugely affected by lifestyle. In fact, studies suggest that around 80% of cancers are impacted by common lifestyle factors. These include smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and obesity. Such factors relate directly to the incidence and mortality rates of cancer.

Employers are in a position to offer crucial education regarding cancer and what increases the risk. The preventability of cancer is something everyone should know about.

For employers, raising awareness may be as simple as putting up posters in communal areas, or posting information on an intranet. They can also play a much more involved role, arranging webinars, or holding wellbeing events, for example.

These communications should be across all employees.

While age also has an impact on cancer risk, everyone can start to make changes, regardless of their life-stage. In fact, the earlier people are aware of the lifestyle factors that increase their risk of cancer, the greater opportunity they have to do something about it.

Communications should make people aware of the lifestyle impact and risk factors for cancer, and then also provide details of the signs and symptoms of common cancers. This will help employees to spot any indicators of cancer at an early stage – while it is often more easily treatable.

Screening is becoming a more common part of health and wellbeing programmes. Indeed, general health screens (like an MOT for people) give an overall assessment of health – and can also pick up symptoms and alerts for cancer; and there are also more specific cancer screening services too.

This allows the early detection of cancers that may not yet show any symptoms.

Cancer screening is generally carried out for the six most common cancers in the UK, which are bowel, skin, cervical, lung, breast, and prostate. There are seven screening tests covering all these cancers and five of them can be done at home with simple test kits.

There is now an additional element available as part of the education and screening process: screening by risk.

There is growing evidence that by targeting screening of those deemed as higher risk, a greater proportion of cancers can be detected, and more aggressive cancer can be diagnosed at an earlier stage.

A simple questionnaire can be issued to all employees to help determine those who are at higher risk of cancer. These employees can then be offered the relevant screening to check whether any signs of cancer are present.

The key here is that staff are offered screening not by their pay grade or job title, but by their actual risk of being affected by cancer.

Employee benefits have traditionally been related to the employee’s position in the company but, for health and wellbeing support, there is a great deal more to consider than job title alone.

Cancer risk assessment can be a hugely cost-effective way of offering screening to the right employees, to provide the best outcomes.  

Education and risk assessment for cancer have a minimal cost to the employer but could be of huge worth to the employee. If nothing else, consider these options this World Cancer Day. If the company is able to screen for those at the highest risk, the consider implementing that process today. 

Debra Clark is head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection