Global health services company Cigna recently completed an analysis of 20 years of short-term disability (STD) claims to learn how productivity levels for employees are affected by several health-related issues including depression, obesity, and cancer.

Although the number of STD claims for cancer care has risen during the last two decades, the duration of cancer-related claims has decreased by more than 15%, according to Cigna, who analyzed the claims of 118,000 employees across 24 US-based companies.

With cancer care improving as a result of medical advances and greater disability services offered by employers, employees are able to focus on their health and perhaps worry less about whether they will still have a job when they return. This improvement in time away from the office could be attributed to earlier detection and treatment of cancers, enabling employees to undergo less drastic treatments and be able to return to the workforce sooner.

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Workforce Reacts to Increasing Cancer Diagnoses

One disease in which the number of diagnoses has increased is melanoma, and as a result, the number of patients who have required time off for treatment has risen—by 300%, according to Cigna. This high number may lead employers to offer cancer-prevention education programs as part of their overall wellness in an attempt  to reduce the number of absences resulting from required treatment.

However, when employees continue to work during treatment or return to work after treatment, the employer may not be aware of other treatment-related symptoms their employees may experience, such as fatigue, anxiety, or depression.

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Cigna found that when employers offer an integrative approach—combining disease-management programs and rehabilitation services to meet the needs of patients with cancer—97% of survivors return to work.

“Integrated benefits make a big difference in helping employees return to health, and work, faster, said  Robert Anfield, MD, chief medical office for Cigna’s disability insurance unit. “When medical and disability programs work together, it’s easier to stay ahead of potential comorbidities,” he added.

“Regardless of the medical condition, the 20-year study underscores the importance of matching benefits most suitable to each unique workforce. Building an effective benefits program should always be strategic rather than cookie-cutter,” said. Dr. Anfield.

How Can Oncology Professionals Help?

What does this mean for cancer care professionals? The medical team can assist patients in several ways. One recommendation from the study includes coupling productivity into wellness programs to raise awareness across all areas of management to help facilitate the changing needs of employees who are actively undergoing treatment or returning to work following treatment.

Additionally, oncology professionals can encourage the employee to break the “taboo of silence” that some may experience when returning to work after a cancer diagnosis. Employees may not want to burden the office with their personal business; however, they should serve as their own advocates so that their needs are met. Perhaps an employee may need a temporary change in schedule to deal with fatigue, or to build in time for follow-up oncology visits, and their employer should support them in doing so.

The cancer care team can assist patients by addressing these issues at the beginning of treatment. This will not only help the patient see the light at the end of the treatment tunnel, but will keep them focused on survivorship and getting back into the normal routines of life, which can be a comfort for some patients. Partnering the patient with a social worker may also help in this effort.


  1. Cigna: 20 years of disability claims data reveal emerging workforce productivity challenges. Accessed June 23, 2014.