Learn more about Cancer - Clinical Claims Innovation Lab

Cancer and work 

When employees share that they have cancer, you may be uncertain about what to say and do, and whether they can work or will need time away. You may also have responsibilities related to employee wellness, and preventive care education may be included in your planning. Below are considerations that can help you succeed in both scenarios. 

8 ways to support Employees who have cancer and raise preventive care initiatives

Employees who receive a cancer diagnosis will work closely with their doctors for a treatment plan to return them to health. Many studies show that employees who can minimize disruption and stick with their routines have better outcomes. Often, employees who have a cancer diagnosis can and want to work. Of course, this is the not the case for every employee and in those cases, Sun Life provides as much benefits information as possible. In any event, Sun Life interactions are delivered with care and empathy.

  1. Get insights from Sun Life’s whitepaper, In their shoes: How to help employees navigate a leave of absence through empathy and information.
  2. Listen, and let them know you care. If you struggle with the right words to say, this resource can help you. While it’s important to not say that everything will be okay, cancer treatments and outcomes are increasingly successful.
  3. Help them understand their benefits, including their health care deductibles. If you think your employee needs to take disability leave, instruct them to submit a claim.
  4. Understand employees who have a cancer diagnosis often can and want to work. Consistent with Sun Life’s "Work is Healthy" philosophy, employees want to contribute, and work can bring them routine and normalcy.
  5. Be open to your employee’s need for intermittent leave and other workplace accommodations. There are many no-cost and easy-to-implement solutions that can help an employee stay productive. Read more here from the Job Accommodation Network and these HR tips from the American Cancer Society. If Sun Life initiates a discussion about transitional return to work or an accommodation for an employee, we will clearly define what your employee needs and what is being asked of you. 
  6. Encourage mental wellness. The services provided by your employee assistance program can help support mental health and recovery. Additionally, Sun Life is offering eligible members with cancer access to one-on-one therapy and coaching, virtually through our partnership with AbleTo.  
  7. Use this time to re-evaluate or invigorate your employee wellness programs for all employees. Encourage employee preventative health screenings and workplace wellness including smoking cessation and weight loss programs. Evaluate your workplace mental wellness strategy with the goal of helping people to get care when they need it.  
  8. Stay engaged with your employee. Many employers are unsure of whether and how to communicate with their employee on leave, often because they don’t want the employee to feel that they are being pressured to return to work before they are ready. Yet, for many employees, work is a constant in their lives, and they want to maintain some contact during their leave of absence. For compliance reasons, you should refrain from giving the impression that they should return to work sooner than anticipated; however, It is okay for you to reach out to employees on leave to say hello and that you’re thinking about them. 

Performance and functional scales help identify whether an individual can work—even with cancer

The impact of a cancer diagnosis and other illnesses can be evaluated in part by analyzing a person’s level of function or their ability to perform activities of daily living.

  • The Karnofsky Performance Scale provides a performance status metric based on functional capacity.
  • The Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) status scale provides a grade level performance status that is indicative of how disease is progressing and how it affects activities of daily living.

There are several ways to map these two scales. This table displays one commonly used comparison.

Together, these scales show a wide range of possibility for individuals who seek treatment for cancer while remaining at work or taking leave. When appropriate, Sun Life case managers also engage vocational rehabilitation consultants to discuss return-to-work capabilities as well as behavioral health experts when members express anxiety or other mental wellness concerns.

Understanding the stages of cancer 

Cancer typically has four stages. Some cancers even have a stage 0 (zero). Staging is a way to describe a cancer by telling where a cancer is located, its size, how far it has grown into nearby tissues, and if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other body parts. Staging helps the employee’s physician plan the best treatment. 

  • Stage 0
    • This stage means that abnormal cells are present but have not spread to nearby tissues. Stage 0 cancers are often curable.
  • Stage I
    • This stage usually represents a small tumor or cancer that hasn’t grown deeply into nearby tissues. It’s sometimes called early-stage cancer.
  • Stage II or III
    • Usually, these stages represent larger cancers or tumors that have grown more deeply into nearby tissues. They also may have spread to lymph nodes. However, they haven’t spread to other organs or parts of the body.
  • Stage IV
    • Cancer in this stage has spread to other organs or parts of the body. It may be referred to as metastatic or advanced cancer.
  • When cancer costs are a concern, consider offering a supplemental health plan

    You may determine that cancer is prevalent or top of mind for your employees. People living with cancer typically have increased out-of-pocket expenses associated with their care. As you plan next year’s benefits offering, consider Critical Illness insurance or Cancer insurance to help employees manage these costs while still getting treatment.

    Read more

  • When cancer isn’t treatable

    Most people of working ages recover or live with cancer. Sadly, we all know someone who has had terminal cancer and needed hospice or palliative care. Upon their passing, you may receive questions from their loved ones. Sun Life is here to help.

    Learn more

Group insurance policies are underwritten by Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada (Wellesley Hills, MA) in all states, except New York, under Policy Form Series 93P-LH, 15-GP-01, 12-DI-C-01, 12-GPPort-P-01, 12-STDPort-C-01, 16-DI-C-01, TDBPOLICY-2006, and TDI-POLICY. In New York, group insurance policies are underwritten by Sun Life and Health Insurance Company (U.S.) (Lansing, MI) under Policy Form Series 15-GP-01, 13-GP-LH-01, 13-LTD-C-01, 13-STD-C-01, 06P-NY-DBL, 12-GPPort-01, and 12-STDPort-C-01. Product offerings may not be available in all states and may vary depending on state laws and regulations. The group insurance policies described in this advertisement provide disability income insurance only. They do NOT provide basic hospital, basic medical, or major medical insurance as defined by the New York State Department of Financial Services

SLPC 31681 06/22 (exp. 06/24)