The massive pandemic-led backlog around cancer screening, diagnosis and, crucially, treatment means it is even more imperative employers and OH work together to raise awareness around the value of workplace testing, including the fact some tests can easily be done at home, argues Brett Hill.
We all know the chances of surviving cancer significantly increase if it is detected early. Screening, in turn, helps to detect cancer before symptoms are presented.
It is therefore imperative employers embrace the concept of easy access to screening if they really want to support the health and wellbeing of their employees.
The impact of Covid-19 on cancer screening
According to research published in the journal Annals of Oncology, more than three million people missed routine cancer screening appointments in England during the pandemic.
This would normally diagnose around 400 cancers every week. There is now a huge backlog in cancer screening, diagnoses, and treatment.
This has resulted in a 6.8% increase in diagnosis of terminal, stage 4 cancer. The current backlog is estimated to be causing three- to six-months delays to cancer diagnoses and treatment, contributing to 4,700 otherwise avoidable deaths.
Some cancers do not show symptoms until they are in advanced stages. These include bowel, lung, and prostate cancer.
Screening is vital in detecting these cancers early, which then vastly increases the chances of survival and often means that treatment is less severe and more effective. In short, quicker diagnoses equals better health outcomes.
Why early detection is so important
According to Check4Cancer, if detected in its earliest stages, prostate cancer is around 90% curable.
Equally, of the 55,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, 23% are preventable by screening and risk reduction. Conversely, survival rates of lung cancer are low because it is generally detected late.
Cervical cancer is very treatable if detected in its earliest stages, yet one in four women fail to attend NHS cervical screening. This increases to one in three women aged 25-29 years.
The earlier skin cancer is detected, the better the outcome. This is particularly true of a malignant mole or melanoma.
Simple, effective testing
The six most common cancers in the UK are bowel, skin, cervical, lung, breast, and prostate. There are seven screening tests for these cancers (as listed below) and five of them can be done at home, something that many employers and employees may not be aware of.
- Bowel cancer – at-home sample test kit. Results within five days.
- Skin cancer – local clinic visit for a simple skin examination. Results within five days.
- Cervical cancer (HPV) – at-home sample test kit. Results within five days.
- Lung cancer – at-home sample test kit. Results within two weeks.
- Breast cancer – local clinic visit for mammogram. Results within three to four weeks.
- Breast cancer risk – at-home DNA saliva test kit. Results within eight weeks.
- Prostate cancer – at-home finger-prick test. Results within one week.
Many people simply do not realise just how simple cancer screening can be. Clinics offering testing are spread across the UK for simple, local access. Moreover, the majority of the tests can be carried out at home by the individual, with no need for any visit to their GP.
How employers can help
Employers, too, can help to tackle the cancer screening backlog. Tests are available as one-off standalone checks, without any attachment to private medical insurance.
These can also be discounted to employers, which can make them even more accessible. Employers are, therefore, in a position to be able to offer an invaluable employee benefit to staff, which will be a huge support to health and wellbeing, can reduce anxiety around any cancer concerns, and could prove a vital preventative measure.
As Professor Gordon Wishart, chief medical officer at Check4Cancer, says: “With early detection being so critical to the successful treatment of cancer, we are working in partnership with Towergate Health & Protection to offer essential cancer screening tests at a discounted rate for clients. These are a quick and convenient way for employees to take control of their health and wellbeing.”
Education and awareness to minimise the risk
According to Cancer Research UK, offering screening also has a part to play in raising awareness of cancer and its contributing factors.
A total of 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the UK are attributed to lifestyle and environmental factors and 42% are preventable.
Education, awareness, and prevention is key to reducing cancer risk. Offering screening helps to start the conversation around cancer risk and many of the tests are accompanied by information and advice to employees on how they can take preventative measures and lifestyle choices to minimise the risk.
So many cancers are completely curable if caught early. With screening so simple, cost effective, easily accessed, and successful, this really should be at the top of the list for employers to offer to their staff.