Growing numbers of men are still only diagnosed with prostate cancer after it has spread elsewhere and chances of survival are much reduced, research has suggested. This, if nothing else, highlights the value of employers getting behind this month’s “March for Men” Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
Employee health and wellbeing – helping male employees to speak up about prostate cancer
This month (March) is “March for Men” Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, organised by the charity Prostate Cancer UK. Last year saw awareness raising and fundraising marches take place in London, Leeds, Glasgow, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool, with more than £825,000 being raised.
And even though awareness of the condition has been raised by names such as broadcaster Stephen Fry and presenter Bill Turnbull speaking out about their experiences, recent research has suggested there is still a long way to go.
The NHS’s fifth annual National Prostate Cancer Audit published in February concluded that too many men were still being diagnosed after their cancer had already spread.
A total of 42,975 men were told they had the disease in England and Wales between April 2016 and March 2017. But the proportion in England whose cancer was metastatic or had spread was 16%, unchanged on the last audit in 2015/16.
What, then, can employers do to help?
First, and fairly obviously, employers can promote and support this year’s awareness month, both directly in terms of how to get involved and more widely through health promotion, awareness raising and education around prostate cancer and its symptoms.
Return to work support
Second, it is about looking at the support you offer to “survivors” returning to the workplace post-diagnosis and treatment. Prostate Cancer UK, for example, recommends that, for an office role, an employee could be looking to return to work following surgery in as little as a fortnight, but for a heavier, manual role it could be four to six weeks.
For an employee undergoing radiotherapy, they may need to take time off or have their role adjusted to cope with the side-effects, such as feeling extremely tired.
Making full use of the expertise that occupational health professionals can bring to bear in circumstances such as this may be invaluable. There may also be emotional and mental health side-effects to content with. For example, a study by The Movember Foundation in February suggested that more than 80% of men struggle with sexual side-effects after prostate cancer treatment, yet fewer than half are offered the support they need to cope with it.
Role of EAPs
To that end, OH support may again be useful. But also offering access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) providing mental health support and counselling may be valuable, and valued by employees making the transition back into work. An EAP may also be able to pass on best practice advice and guidance to managers, or advice on who best to turn to for more expert support, if required.
As Dr Lucy Wright, Optima Health Chief Medical Officer, advises: “It is well recognised that getting men to engage with health and wellbeing issues can be challenging, especially so when dealing with potentially ‘embarrassing’ conditions such as prostate or testicular cancer.
“But, as the latest research shows, the sooner men come forward and seek medical help, the better their chances of survival. Initiatives such as ‘March for Men’ this month play a helpful and important part in raising awareness, but employers also have an important role to play year-round in educating and supporting employees about conditions such as prostate cancer.”