Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

February 4, 2019

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World Cancer Day – a look at occupational cancer


What is World Cancer Day?

World Cancer Day is a truly global event taking place every year on 4 February, uniting the world’s population in the fight against cancer.

It aims to save millions of preventable deaths each year by raising awareness and education about the disease, pressing governments and individuals across the world to take action.

Currently, 8.2 million people die from cancer worldwide every year, out of which, 4 million people die prematurely (aged 30 to 69 years)

Eight out of ten cancer patients have work-related concerns, says RedArc Nurses


Occupational cancer


According to the HSE:

  • Past occupational exposure to known and probable carcinogens is estimated to account for about 5% of cancer deaths and 4% of cancer registrations currently occurring each year in Great Britain.
  • This equates to about 8,000 cancer deaths and 13,500 new cancer registrations each year.
  • Past asbestos exposure is the leading cause of deaths from occupational cancer today. Other major causes of occupational cancer include silica, solar radiation, mineral oils and shift work.
  • The construction industry has the largest estimate of occupational cancer cases, with 3,500 cancer deaths and 5,500 cancer registrations each year from this industry.
  • Exposure to silica, Diesel Engine Exhaust, solar radiation, shift work and working as painters and welders might become the main causes of occupational cancer in the future, according to the estimate of the research study.

You can find out more about occupational cancer here:


Working after a cancer diagnosis

Most cancers are not caused as a direct result of a person’s job. However all cancer patients  must be suitably supported in the workplace.

Based on 6,000 cancer patient records collected over the past decade, RedArc Nurses has identified that 80 per cent of cancer patients who are in work have employment-related concerns at some point during their illness. With such high volumes of patients having worries about how to communicate their condition and their needs to employers, and fears about how their employer will react, it therefore comes as little surprise that one in four cancer patients go on to develop anxiety, stress or depression leading to mental health issues too. RedArc has identified the most burdensome work-related issues for cancer patients.

  • Lack of confidence
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of understanding from line manager
  • How to deal with side effects of cancer in the workplace
  • And a general brain ‘fog’ – a dip in cognitive abilities during or after chemotherapy treatment

Small businesses vs. larger corporates

RedArc Nurses believe that small businesses tend to find it harder to deal with staff who have been diagnosed with either cancer or mental health issues, or both, simply because their HR systems aren’t designed to cope and their focus is on trying to ensure business continuity with one less member of staff. However, even in larger organisations where the HR department is well versed in dealing with long-term illnesses, the employee is more likely to be affected by the attitude and support of their individual line manager, who could be poorly equipped, unless they have received specific training.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc says: “Having to deal with the diagnosis itself is traumatic but adding work-related worries in to the mix can put too much pressure on some individuals which unfortunately leads them down the path of mental health issues too.

“Oncologist teams are very much focused on treating the primary condition and may have little or no time to consider all aspects of the patient’s wellbeing; therefore the early signs of mental health problems can be overlooked.”

Christine Husbands concluded: “A dedicated and experienced nurse adviser can pre-empt the concerns that the patient may have and provide proactive solutions. For example, an employee may require rest breaks and the nurse adviser can help them prepare to discuss this with their employer in advance of being back at their desk, without the issue building in to a more stressful situation.

“World Cancer Day in February is the ideal time for employers and insurers to consider whether their support for cancer patients really goes as far as it should, in helping employees back to work and in avoiding long-term mental health conditions.”


This article was originally published on SHP on 3 February 2017.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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