As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s an appropriate time for employers to consider the human as well as the organizational benefits for encouraging female employees to participate in early breast cancer detection and other wellness programs. We’ll explore steps you can take to help implement programs that can not only help save lives but significantly elevate the level of respect and appreciation employees feel for the care their employer demonstrates.
As you know, breast cancer is as prevalent as it is pernicious. The National Cancer Institute states that it is the most common malignancy in women in the United States. According to breastcancer.org, “There are about 190,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 60,000 cases of non-invasive breast cancer this year in American women.”
The World Cancer Research Fund International reveals that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, with nearly 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012 (second most common cancer overall). This represents about 12% of all new cancer cases and 25% of all cancers in women. It is the fifth most common cause of death from cancer in women.
And according to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer, 63,410 new cases of breast carcinoma in situ, and 40,610 breast cancer deaths among women in the U.S. in 2017. While breast cancer incidence rates are highest in non-Hispanic white women, breast cancer death rates are highest in African American women.
The good news is that early detection can save lives, and your company as well as your valued employees can derive significant benefits. They key is early detection.
While the outlook for women with breast cancer varies by the stage of the cancer, in general, the survival rates are better when the disease is diagnosed earlier. The following information from the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database is for women diagnosed with breast cancer between 2007 and 2013.
- The 5-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer is close to 100%.
- For women with stage II breast cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 93%.
- The 5-year relative survival rate for stage III breast cancers is about 72%. But often, women with these breast cancers can be successfully treated.
What Your Organization Can Do
1. Promote mammograms
Mammograms being conducted in the workplace are gaining in popularity. Employers appreciate that the cost of treating earlier stages of breast cancer is significantly less than treating later stages. In fact, a recent study found that the average costs per patient allowed by the insurance company in the year after diagnosis were $60,637, $82,121, $129,387, and $134,682 for disease stage 0, I/II, III, and IV, respectively. That’s a difference of $52,561 between stage I/II and stage IV. Early detection could therefore result in lower insurance premiums for employers.
More importantly, promoting mammograms can benefit those employees you’ve invested significant time and resources in recruiting, training, developing, and supporting. Consider promoting early detection by regularly and emphatically encouraging female staff to participate in breast cancer screenings. You can even arrange to have mobile mammograms available at your workplace. Mobile mammograms are convenient and may save time for employees so they can be screened without impacting their already-busy schedules. One resource we found stated that “90% of our patients tell us would not have completed their annual breast cancer screening” if the mobile service had not been sponsored by their employer or other sponsors. Screens may take just a few minutes. And your employees will appreciate the good will behind this helpful and supportive gesture.
If hosting mobile mammograms isn’t an option, alert staff about local mammography events or information about self-breast exams.
A local hospital may offer reduced-price mammograms during a certain time period. You may consider reaching out to ask how your business can get involved. Circulate fliers prior to the date, and offer volunteer staff at the event to give out refreshments or hand out pink freebies with your logo.
2. Offer mammography recommendations:
There are several different scientific and medical bodies that propagate different recommendations for when a women to start undergoing mammography. To summarize:
- Screening mammography should start yearly sometime between 40 and 50 years of age.
- Annual or biennial mammography should continue to age 75.
- After age 75 years old, screening should continue based upon a risk / benefit decision with your doctor.
3. Sponsor an exercise class
Your organization can promote health and wellness by implementing a dance, yoga, or exercise class. You may already have employees on board with expertise who would be willing to share the expertise and lead the class. All you would need to do is provide the location and perhaps serve healthy refreshments. Optionally, tie it in with a fundraising event and dedicate a portion to one of the reputable organizations supporting breast cancer awareness.
4. Promote a healthy lifestyle
It may prove beneficial to encourage good health by offering a choice of healthy foods from vending machines, providing workout equipment on-site, and promoting walking meetings and breaks beyond the confines of the office. Encourage participation by senior members of the staff to help influence the whole team.
5. Offer private areas for new mothers
Did you know that breastfeeding can lower breast cancer risk? The benefit is especially apparent for women who breastfeed for longer than one year. Why does breastfeeding protect breast health?
- Making milk 24/7 promotes healthier breast cells.
- Most women have fewer menstrual cycles when they’re breastfeeding which results in lower estrogen levels.
- When breastfeeding, many women eat more nutritious foods and follow healthier lifestyles.
Let staff know you support paid breastfeeding breaks. If space is available, consider creating a “New Mother’s Room” so a breastfeeding mother can care for her child in a comfortable, quiet, and private environment. If possible, furnish the room with comfortable seating, dimmed lighting, a sink, and a small refrigerator.
6. Be supportive of breast cancer survivors returning to the workforce
Coming back to the job after an extended absence can be a significant challenge for anyone, but more so by far for women who have survived or who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The more compassion that can be engendered within your organization, the better. Beyond “welcome back” parties, consider flexible hours and permission to work from home for returnees.
The earlier the detection, the better the outlook for your valued employees who may face breast cancer. Doing so may not only help save lives but, in the process, promote a generally healthier lifestyle within your entire organization and foster good will that just may elevate your brand and accrue to your bottom line.
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