Working well: Breast cancer survivors say working is good for recovery but employers could do more

27 October 2015
women talking

This Breast Cancer Awareness month, research from Bupa, the global health and care company, reveals that work has an important role to play in cancer recovery. 96% of breast cancer survivors who were in employment during their recovery stated that they valued the distraction that work offered and 92% said that being in work had a positive impact on their recovery.   

The global study from Bupa with 632 breast cancer survivors reveals that 89% of respondents felt that working during treatment and recovery gave them something positive to focus on and 95% valued the sense of ‘normality’ from work.    

Despite the reported value of returning to work, respondents don’t necessarily attribute this benefit to actions of employers. It’s clear that employers could do much more with only 17% of respondents currently citing practical support from their employers as a benefit of being in work. However, 44% valued the emotional support from colleagues, and 59% felt a sense of stability from simply returning to work.  

Dr Fiona Adshead, Chief Wellbeing & Public Health Officer, Bupa says:

“This research shows that for some individuals, the working environment can actually play a therapeutic role when undergoing treatment or recovering from breast cancer. For some it’s about having continuity in their lives during the turbulence of diagnosis and treatment and for others it can be a positive focus for the future.   “However it seems that these intrinsic benefits of working are not necessarily being supplemented by employer support. Businesses may not recognise how crucial their role is but additional support could make an individual’s experience of working through cancer even more beneficial.”     

According to the research, the period in which respondents were receiving treatment was considered the most challenging time to be at work. While the vast majority of breast cancer survivors felt gains from being in work, 12% felt unsupported by their employers.  

There is huge potential for employers to improve in the area of implementing workplace cancer programmes, with studies estimating that a third (36%) of people fail to return to employment after cancer even though they’re physically able. In response to this, in partnership with the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), Bupa has launched a suite of guides that support and encourage employers to help cancer survivors in their return to work.  

Cary Adams, CEO, UICC says:

“More and more cancer survivors are wanting to return to work, citing both financial and emotional reasons with a job restoring normality, stability, social contact and income as key motivators. For businesses, supporting people to come back to work improves their capacity to retain experienced employees, reduce sickness-related absence and help sustain a resilient, productive employee base.  

“There are a number of things businesses can do to support employees affected by cancer and keep them in the workforce, from helping individuals understand their rights, offering flexible or reduced working hours right the way through to offering counselling services and creating a supportive culture between colleagues,” continued Adams.  

In the UK, The Bupa Cancer Survivorship Programme gives customers advice and support when they return to work with a dedicated cancer nurse on the phone for as long as needed, support for family members, and practical guidance on living well beyond cancer.   More advice for how businesses can support employees living with breast cancer can be found in the Bupa and UICC guide, ‘Working with Cancer’   

Notes to editor

The Working Towards Recovery research was completed by 632 international respondents in October 2015 from the UK, Spain, Poland, South America, New Zealand and Australia.


Bupa UK Cancer Promise

Our cancer promise is based on over 60 years of providing support for those dealing with diagnosis and treatment of cancer. We aim to bring our customers the best treatment, support and information available.  There are no financial or time limits for treatment. Customers are also able to access eligible breakthrough cancer drugs and treatments, often before they are available on the NHS or approved by NICE.  


We make sure customers are supported at every stage with a specialist cancer support team to offer understanding, advice and vital support through difficult decisions. Treatment is available across the country and at home and our trained counsellors provide emotional and psychological support when it’s needed.   


About the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)

UICC unites the cancer community to reduce the global cancer burden, to promote greater equity, and to integrate cancer control into the world health and development agenda. UICC is the largest cancer-fighting organisation of its kind, with over 900 member organisations across 155 countries representing the world's major cancer societies, ministries of health, research institutes, treatment centres and patient groups.  


UICC is dedicated to continuing to work with world leaders to increase their support for cancer control measures, and encourage accountability for the cancer commitments made in the UN Political Declaration on NCDs. UICC uses key convening opportunities like the World Cancer Leaders' Summit, World Cancer Congress and World Cancer Day for continued focus on:

- Developing specific time-bound targets and indicators to measure the national implementation of policies and approaches to prevent and control cancer

- Raising the priority accorded to cancer in the global health and development agenda

- Promoting a global response to cancer   UICC and its multisectoral partners are committed to encouraging governments to look towards the implementation and scale-up of quality and sustainable programmes that address the global burden of cancer and other NCDs.


UICC is also a founding member of the NCD Alliance, a global civil society network that now represents almost 2,000 organisations in 170 countries. For more information, please visit:

About Bupa

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At Bupa, we have no shareholders. Our priority is looking after you... through our care homes, health insurance, health centres and dental centres. Bupa. Our focus is your health.

We have 15.7 million health insurance customers, provide healthcare to around 14.5 million people in our clinics and hospitals, and look after over 23,000 aged care residents.

We directly employ around 80,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the USA, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland, and many more through our associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

Health insurance is around 73% of our business. In a number of countries, we also run clinics, dental centres, hospitals, and care homes and villages.

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