Breast and prostate cancers are the most common cancers in the UK, which means someone is likely to work with a person affected by the disease. This Autumn, In support of breast cancer awareness month and ahead of Movember, Dr Steve Iley, Bupa UK medical director UK shares advice on supporting a colleague.

According to Bupa’s annual Health and Wellness Index, which looks at over one million procedures over the last ten years, there has been a 41 per cent rise in the number of women using health insurance provided through their employer for surgical breast cancer treatments.

The same data also finds an 18 per cent increase in the number of men getting surgical treatment relating to their prostate health over the past decade.

Dr Iley says, ‘Thanks to campaigns such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and Movember in November, people are more aware of the prevalence of both breast cancer and prostate cancer. A greater number of people now survive cancer due to early diagnosis and advances in medical treatment, and as a result, return to work.

‘We know that many businesses want to support employees who are being treated for cancer. However, line managers may find it difficult to broach the subject. We want to support businesses to create an environment where cancer can be discussed as openly as a common cold.

‘Here are my top tips for employers wanting to foster a supportive workplace and ways they can encourage their teams to not shy away from getting a check-up.’

Using your existing communication channels

If an employee has been diagnosed with cancer, or if they are concerned they may have cancer, it’s important to create an environment where they can talk to you openly. It is natural to shy away from talking about breasts and prostates, despite them being the most common cancers among men and women.

Use existing communication channels such as the intranet or posters in communal areas to provide educational material on cancer and tips on how to talk about it in an open way. You could also create internal videos or podcasts with information on what support is available to your employees, and how they can access it.

Encourage check-ups

Early detection significantly increases your chances of surviving cancer. If you offer employees access to regular tests or checkups, you can improve employee engagement by promoting these benefits. Consider putting up posters in highly-visible communal areas and toilets so that employees are aware of how they can get a check-up.

Bupa has recently launched a new pathway in London for prostate and breast cancer checkups, diagnosis and treatment. These pathways have been designed to create a more efficient route to diagnosis and treatment.

Supporting a colleague return back to work after cancer

It’s not uncommon for someone who is returning to work after cancer to have mixed emotions, from relief and excitement to be returning to ‘everyday life’; to being worried about whether or not they’ll be able to cope.

It’s a good idea to get in contact with a colleague before they return to work to understand what, if any, support they may need. Discuss whether they’ll be able to return to their usual hours, or if changes need to be to accommodate their return to work.

Empower and educate your employees on how they can best support the person returning to work, whether that’s just a friendly chat, or providing them with more information about what that person has been through.

Further reading on supporting staff with cancer

Does your business turn over between £50,000 and £500,000? If so, you are eligible for the new Small Business Grants initiative from We’re giving away £5,000 every month in a free-to-enter competition. Apply now by clicking here. Good luck!


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