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Why Employers Care

For many employers, cancer is one of the most costly conditions; if unaddressed, cancer costs could increase significantly in the coming years. As the U.S. workforce ages and many employees delay retirement, more working-age adults are being diagnosed with cancer. The combination of earlier detection and more advanced treatment methods has also caused an increase in the number of people surviving and living with cancer, making it more of a chronic disease. While this is undoubtedly a good trend, the increase in the population of people living with cancer creates many challenges for employers, including high costs, increased rates of absenteeism and disability, lost productivity and the potential loss of valued employees. Consider the following:

  • In a typical commercial population, only 0.68% of members have claims for cancer in a year, yet these claims account for about 10% of all medical costs.1
  • Spending on cancer has increased by $63 billion from 1990 to 2008.2
  • The total cost of cancer in 2008 in the U.S. was $228.1 billion. This figure comprises direct medical costs of $93.2 billion, indirect morbidity costs of $18.8 billion and indirect mortality costs of $116.1 billion.3

The spike in cancer incidence has also led to an increase in the number of employees assuming caregiving roles for family members, which imposes more direct and indirect costs on employers. Seventy percent of caregivers report making changes such as cutting back on their hours, changing jobs, stopping work entirely or taking a leave of absence as a result of their caregiver role.4 Caregivers are also more prone to anxiety and depression.4

What Can Employers Do?

Employers should be prepared to deal with the full gamut of workplace issues that a cancer diagnosis can create. Employers should develop a clear, comprehensive strategy for employees with cancer and their caregivers through careful design and implementation of benefits and astute selection of vendors. This strategy should include:

  • Providing access to evidence-based information about cancer
  • Motivating and rewarding employees and dependents to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors that can help reduce the risk of cancer
  • Encouraging compliance with recommended cancer screenings
  • Supporting individuals during treatment for and recovery from cancer or at end of life through appropriate medical, pharmacy, behavioral health and other benefits
  • Empowering individuals to become knowledgeable and engaged participants in their health and health care
  • Supporting employees who are caregivers for a loved one with cancer
  • Providing resources to help managers and employees cope with a coworker's cancer
  • Retaining talented employees and optimizing productivity during cancer treatment and recovery or while providing care to a loved one
  • Managing disability and leave benefits
  • Providing guidance for structuring evidence-based requests for proposals and directions for scoring of submitted proposals

Relevant Tools and Resources Include:

References (show references)

1 National Alliance for Caregiving, AARP. Caregiving in the U.S. 2009. Accessed October 18, 2010.

2 Elkin EB, Bach PB. Cancer's next frontier: Addressing high and increasing costs. JAMA. 2010;303(11):1086-1087.

3 American Cancer Society. Economic impact of cancer. Accessed August 12, 2010.

4 Host K. Managing the challenge of specialty pharmaceuticals: maximizing value while improving health outcomes. Employee Benefit Plan Review. 2008;62(9):24-26.

Page last updated: May 24, 2013

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Cancer Continuum of Care