One in three UK employees are living with at least one long-term health condition, including cancer1. The impact of those conditions in people’s personal and professional lives can be significant, they can compromise their physical and mental resilience and negatively impact their work performance. 

There are 131 million working days lost due to sickness every year, and bouncing back from a long-term condition complication can take much longer than the average person without such conditions2. What’s more important is that 8 in 10 long-term conditions can be prevented or reversed using lifestyle changes and in addition to that, at least 4 in 10 cancers can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices. Using preventative medicine principles in the workplace can therefore save employers significant cost from days lost due to ill-health.

The challenge comes when trying to address specialised areas such as cancer, in which case the whole health and wellbeing component becomes complex and requires specialist input. When employees undergo treatment for cancer, have recovered from cancer or are living with cancer, their needs may be multifaceted and unique, and what’s important for one employee may not be for the other. Standard work health and wellbeing programmes are unlikely to be able to address all aspects of health and wellbeing for people with cancer, unless there is specialist input with knowledge of conventional and evidence-based, supportive lifestyle and complementary interventions for people with cancer, a healthcare discipline known as Integrative Oncology (IO).

Most recent statistics state that 1 in 2 people will develop cancer sometime in their lifetime and at least half of people will survive at least 10 years after their diagnosis3. The number of survivors is increasing, which significantly increase the burden of long-term conditions arising because of cancer and its treatment. People live with complex and often unmet physical and psychosocial needs after their treatment, which lead them to either seek help from non-evidence-based sources or continue to suffer in the mistaken belief that nothing can be done. This can result in lost workdays and may make their conditions worse rather than better.

There is currently lack of healthcare funding for an integrative oncology approach in the UK, despite the evidence that IO can support people in having a better quality of life and minimise side effects and complications of treatment. Integrative oncology focuses on intelligently combining evidence-informed conventional, psychological, nutritional, lifestyle and complementary medicine in cancer care. This synergistic and proactive approach is missing from cancer care currently and needs to be addressed to keep people well and thriving in their personal and professional lives.

The benefits of integrative oncology programmes in people with cancer are the following:

  • A sense of agency and empowerment to take control of own health
  • Building mental and physical resilience whether at work or at home
  • Increased capacity for daily activities at work and at home because personal needs are better met
  • Support for families and carers of people with cancer
  • Extensive evidence of better clinical outcomes, including overall survival

Integrative oncology offers an expanded toolkit to also support cancer prevention, prehabilitation for better treatment tolerance and recovery, management of treatment side effects, rehabilitation for faster recovery following treatment and reduction of recurrence risk, as well as care of patients with incurable disease who may now live for many years.

There is now evidence that shows that the use of integrative oncology services can lead to maintenance of work schedule during and after cancer treatment4. In addition, people with lived experience of cancer are keen to co-produce health and wellbeing tools and solutions together with their clinical teams. Active involvement and collaboration with cancer sufferers can lead to more personalized and valuable solutions, including digital health tools which can educate and introduce people to integrative oncology5.

Dr Penny Kechagioglou and Dr Nina Fuller-Shavel have together co-founded an integrative oncology app, free at the point of use for all adults with cancer. Together they have provided the following action points for employers looking to adopt health and wellbeing programmes for cancer:

Action points for employers looking to adopt health and wellbeing programmes for cancer:

  1. Integrative Oncology is whole-person care and as such, needs to meet the needs of individual cancer patients, wherever they are in their cancer journey. There are several health and wellbeing aspects that need to be addressed which can be summarized into nutritional, physical and psychosocial. It is important that any information shared with cancer patients is evidence-based and follows integrative oncology guidelines in order to ensure the safety and effectiveness of health and wellbeing interventions. General information is often not suitable for complex conditions like cancer, whilst more specialist support is appropriate.
  1. Digital Health and wellbeing programme content is as important as the look and feel of the digital platform. Cancer patient and employee involvement in the end-user design and platform features can maximize employee engagement and experience, resulting in greater likelihood of adoption of such programmes. By increasing adoption, employers can maximize the benefits from health and wellbeing  programmes for their employees.
  2. The design and delivery of health and wellbeing programmes in the workplace is an iterative process of continuous quality improvement. One way to evaluate the approach is through  reported outcome and experience measures from employees who engage in these programmes but also from employees who do not engage. This offers a direct comparison between the two cohorts. There are many types of reported outcome and experience measures, the selection of which needs specialist input as well as input from employees.
  3. Collaborating with cancer specialists with experience in integrative oncology is key in order to ensure that health and wellbeing programmes for cancer patients are continuously updated with the latest evidence. This will ensure employee and employer trust and satisfaction to the programmes and the delivery of safe and effective strategies for workforce health and wellbeing.

In summary

Cancer incidence is increasing and living with this disease can be hard for everyone involved, but especially people who have active jobs. Integrative Oncology, the science of whole person care in cancer, can support the maintenance of our workforce and the improvement in short and long-term clinical outcomes for people affected by cancer. Digital health has improved access to health and wellbeing programmes and it is important that their content is of high quality so that employers reap the benefits of those programmes.


Dr Penny Kehagioglou headshot
Dr Penny Kechagioglou and Dr Nina Fuller-Shavel
Doctors at Onico | + posts

Dr. Penny Kechagioglou, a Consultant Clinical Oncologist in the NHS, and Dr. Nina Fuller-Shavel, an Integrative Medicine Doctor, Scientist, and Educator, have been co-chairs of the British Society for Integrative Oncology (BSIO) for the past 2 years, actively leading in the field to advance Integrative Oncology (IO) in the UK. They have now launched the Oncio app, the first free app available to all adults affected by cancer, aiming to democratize digital access to evidence-based health and wellbeing resources co-designed by healthcare professionals and people with lived experience of cancer.