EORTC Cancer & Employment Session: How can businesses tackle new societal issues?

Cancer clinical research has achieved considerable success over the past 40 years, but this success has also created unique challenges. Many cancer patients now become cancer survivors and are confronted with unanticipated societal problems related to quality of life or obtaining mortgages, appropriate insurance, or gainful employment.

In the presence of H.R.H Princess Astrid of Belgium, participants of this Cancer and Employment session discussed the specific needs of cancer patients and survivors. Dr. Françoise Meunier, EORTC Director Special Projects, opened the session by pointing out the necessity of convincing business to do something to help patients live a dignified life during, and after, their fight against cancer. Marianne Thyssen, EU Commissioner Employment, Social affairs, Skills and Labor Mobility emphasized this point into during her keynote saying, “A job is much more than just work. Let’s not let cancer get the better of us”.

Isabelle Lebrocquy, Cancer Survivor, Patient Advocate, and Social Entrepreneur, asked, “How comfortable are we with the un-comfortable?” Being a cancer patient or survivor is considered a risk by employers, but politicians and business leaders could make difference in this respect. Picking up on this lead, Richard Ellis, Director of Corporate Social Responsibilities, Walgreens Boots Alliance, outlined measures taken, worldwide, by his organization to help cancer patients and survivors remain active employee. Michel Vermaerke, CEO of FEBELFIN, discussed cancer survivorship issues and outlined measures now being taken by Belgian banks in dealing with cancer survivorship issues. For their part, Ingrid Klingmann, Chair of the European Forum for Good Clinical Practice, and Ingrid Kössler of the European Economic and Social Committee, shared social problems with which they were confronted during and after their cancer treatments.

Andrew Jacks of the Financial Times and Peter O’Donnell of POLITICOEurope moderated a panel discussion concerning return to work issues for cancer patients. Francesco Florindi of the European Cancer Patient Coalition questioned whether cancer survivorship issues were on the list of big things concerning European health and social issues, and Satu Lipponen, Special Adviser at the Cancer Society of Finland Association, asked the panel what an employer could do when an employee gets cancer. Offering a way forward, Anastassia Negrouk, Head of the EORTC International Policy Office, said, “We need to catalog best case experiences; 75% of women with breast cancer will be diagnosed while they are still of working age. We need to ensure patients, that they will be able to continue working ”.

EORTC President Roger Stupp wrapped up the Cancer and Employment session by stressing the importance of the EORTC’s continuing focus on cancer survivorship issues, and he announced that a second EORTC Cancer Survivorship Summit will be held in Brussels on 31 March through 01 April 2016.

John Bean, PhD
EORTC, Medical Science Writer

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