Cancer awareness: The importance of early detection 

Cancer can be a devastating illness, but when diagnosed early the chances of effective treatment are greatly improved.

Cancer is a devastating group of diseases that can fundamentally change the lives of those it touches.

An estimated one in two people born in 1961, for example, will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime, according to Cancer Research UK. In 2020, cancer accounted for almost one in every six deaths in World Health Organization data.

In the UK alone, there are approximately 375,000 new cancer cases reported every year, a figure that is expected to rise to more than 500,000 by 2040.

Why is this important for employers? The UK’s ageing population means that people will be staying in the workforce for longer. Cancer is more likely to affect older people, with most cases found in people aged over 50, according to Cancer Research UK. This combination means that many businesses will find that their staff could be affected by some form of cancer.

But while these statistics paint a grim picture, there is an important beacon of hope: early detection through cancer screenings. Detecting cancer early is crucial to effective treatment and improving survival rates.

The importance of early detection

Between 30% and 50% of cancer deaths are believed to be preventable, largely by addressing key risk factors. For example, giving up smoking can drastically reduce your risk of cancer, and other small changes such as reducing alcohol consumption and being more physically active can also help.

Studies have shown that early detection significantly improves survival rates for various cancers. For instance, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer in the UK is 85%, according to the charity Breast Cancer Now, with early diagnosis through screening playing a major role in this data point. The survival rates vary for other forms of cancer, but the general advice is that identifying it early gives the best chance of survival.

When cancer is caught early, it is often smaller and localised, making it easier to treat with less invasive procedures than surgery or radiation therapy. This translates to quicker recovery times and potentially fewer side effects for patients.

Early diagnosis and treatment allow individuals to maintain a better quality of life, enabling them to continue working, spend time with loved ones and engage in activities they enjoy.

Screening for cancer

Cancer screening is one of the most effective ways of diagnosing people, but its availability varies according to the type of cancer.

These proactive tests are used to detect cancer often before major symptoms appear. These tests vary depending on the type of cancer, but some common examples include:

X-rays of the breast to detect abnormalities.

Cell collection from the cervix to check for precancerous changes.

Visualisations of the inner colon to identify polyps or early-stage colorectal cancer.

Detailed X-rays of the lungs to detect lung cancer in high-risk individuals.

In the UK, there are three national screening programmes available, helping to detect signs of breast cancer, cervical cancer and bowel cancer. A lung cancer screening programme is in development but will take some time to establish across the country.

Organisations such as Cancer Research UK are working to discover and promote new screening methods to aid early detection. Some screening tests for rare cancers are available, but may be costly.

There is also a capacity issue within the National Health Service, meaning that people can be forced to wait for a long time before they can be screened and diagnosed.

However, for those with private medical insurance, the process can be far more straightforward.

The role of private medical insurance

Health assessments can play a vital preventative role in combating cancer – but they are almost never included in corporate health plans. 

Our Elect proposition has the option to include health assessments as part of our offering. While screening for a particular cancer can be purchased directly from healthcare providers, our exclusive arrangements can provide health assessments for employees at no extra cost. 

Our health checks focus on preventive health care, identifying potential risks and hereditary health problems, to help employees take immediate action and receive treatment quickly. These assessments can help to identify many health problems early, not only cancer but many other potential conditions.

The inclusion of cancer screenings is emblematic of our holistic approach to healthcare – our health assessments similarly cover issues from cardiovascular risk and liver function to mental health. We focus on helping individual workers understand the current state of their health and identifying undiagnosed underlying health conditions, including cancer, and then help them look for ways to mitigate any problems.

While health screening cannot always provide a definitive diagnosis, it arms the employee with critical information that can then be followed up with an NHS or private GP appointment, which we can also help arrange, to determine the next steps.

Facilitating screening is an investment in employees’ health and wellbeing and, for employers and employees alike, it is likely to be an investment worth making. Early detection and diagnosis as part of a comprehensive private medical insurance policy helps staff to get the treatment they need and facilitate their return to work. 

Making staff aware of the risk factors that increase the chances of them getting cancer and other treatable conditions is a cost-effective and proactive way of improving the health of a workforce. It significantly reduces the likelihood of more serious and life-changing issues arising later.

By prioritising early detection, employers can empower staff to take control of their health and increase their chance of a successful outcome. The more individuals understand about cancer and the importance of screening, the more informed they will be to make choices that could improve their health.

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