CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- While short term disability claims for breast cancer have increased nearly 13 percent over the last 10 years, people battling the disease are able to return to work nearly three weeks sooner on average, according to internal data from Unum (NYSE:UNM).
Cancer has been a leading cause of disability claims for over a decade, but Unum data shows that nearly 70 percent of breast cancer survivors successfully return to work after short term disability leave. In 2016, the average length of a short term disability claim due to breast cancer was 65 days, compared to an average 80-day duration in 2007.
“While early detection is a likely driver of the increase in breast cancer claims, advances in medical treatment have led to fewer side effects during treatment and improvements in recovery and long-term survival rates,” said Heidi Bimrose, director of Workforce Solutions at Unum.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is recognized each October to raise awareness of the important battle one in eight women will face. Products like disability and critical illness insurance provide financial protection and support for employees as they recover and return to work.
“For people diagnosed with cancer, returning to work is a big motivator in their recovery,” said Bimrose, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and quickly returned to work after taking short term disability leave. “Work provided a sense of normalcy at a time when my life was starkly interrupted by this diagnosis.”
Unum’s Workforce Solutions Group offers employers best practices and guidance on how they can support workers through cancer diagnosis and treatment, and provide necessary support and workplace accommodations for those returning to work. “We want to help employers lay the groundwork for a successful and early return to work experience,” said Bimrose.
Cancer patients often experience a wide range of side effects from treatment, including fatigue and cognitive issues that are the result of “chemo-brain,” Bimrose said. Important considerations for helping an employee transition back to work include:
- Clearly define work expectations and limitations
- Create a flexible or reduced work schedule
- Modify work stations to avoid having to stand or sit for too long
- Allow extra time for breaks to combat fatigue
- Communicate regularly to keep the employee engaged
- Provide feedback and coaching on performance
- Cancer is the leading cause of long term disability and accounts for over 16 percent of claims each year.
- Breast cancer represents 18 percent of long term disability cancer claims.
- Over 6 percent of short term disability claims are prompted by cancer, with breast cancer being the leading type at 18 percent of short term disability cancer claims.
- Breast cancer represents nearly a quarter (24 percent) of all short term disability cancer claims for women.