Cancer: Raising awareness and supporting survivors - Hindustan Times

Cancer: Raising awareness and supporting survivors

ByHindustan Times
Jun 21, 2023 04:05 PM IST

This article is authored by Dr Vikram Vora, medical director, India subcontinent, International SOS.

Every year, May 31 is marked as World No-Tobacco Day to highlight the deleterious effects of tobacco and to inspire actions to reduce its use. But a few days later, on the first Sunday in June, another equally important day of great significance is celebrated – Cancer Survivors Day. Health statistics reveal that cancer incidence in India grew by 5% between 2020 and 2022. Nearly 28% of all cancers diagnosed were attributable to tobacco use. Today, one in nine Indians are at risk of developing some form of cancer in their lifetime.


It must be remembered that cancer does not only affect an individual but impacts the entire family. Hence, surviving cancer, either by cure or conquest is no small feat but it is just the beginning of a challenging road ahead. Reintegrating cancer survivors back into the mainstream is a responsibility that is a shared one and employers have an important role to play in this journey. Creating a supportive environment for cancer survivors is important. Organisations should have an inclusive health and wellbeing policy that addresses the needs of those with critical diseases like cancer. Increasing awareness among employees and making health care resources easily accessible should be a part of the policy.

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Manager training should form a part of organisational efforts that help in maintaining the privacy and ensuring safety at work. Cancer survivors may need time to fully recover from their treatment regimens. Some may emerge with reduced physical abilities as a result of the treatment. Workplace design should take into account the provision of appropriate parking spaces and ramps for these employees. Flexible work arrangements, remote working, reduced hours, frequent breaks and recovery leave should be extended. Ergonomic furniture and task modifications designed to reduce discomfort should be available.

Cancer drains an individual’s energy, confidence as well as finances. Mental wellbeing gets adversely impacted as a result of the rapidly proliferative disease and its equally aggressive (and expensive) treatment. The value of counselling for a cancer survivor cannot be overstated. At workplace wellness centres managed by International SOS, we ensure that medical resources have the necessary empathy and training to counsel and guide survivors.

While the medical recovery is ongoing, other aspects of a survivor’s lifestyle also require change that needs support. Ensuring the availability of healthy food and exercise options as well as medical facilities and spaces for rest, relaxation and mindfulness help tremendously. It must be remembered that tobacco-related cancers are the fastest growing types of cancers. The use of tobacco is rampant and non-smoke forms of tobacco are as harmful as smoking. Glorification of tobacco use in movies and among celebrities needs to be addressed. At the workplace, sensitisation of co-workers is critical to keep cancer survivors away from pity, discriminatory behaviour or triggers and temptations. It is peer pressure situations like “stepping out for a smoke” that can cause a survivor of tobacco-related cancer to relapse.

Eliminating tobacco use in a bid to curb cancers is easier said than done. At an individual level, using aids like nicotine patches and gums can be beneficial. But on an organisational level, a zero tobacco-use workplace should be the goal. Understanding the extent of the problem through regular health risk assessments can serve as the starting point for drawing up a smoking cessation programme as a part of the larger health and wellbeing charter. Company-wide smoking cessation programmes conducted by International SOS for clients around the world have helped thousands of employees to quit smoking even in high-risk work locations where stress (a factor that provokes smoking) is ever-present.

As we move towards faster and more complex lifestyles in a perma-crises environment, health and wellbeing challenges are compounding and extracting a toll on our bodies and minds. Succumbing to undesirable behaviour like smoking and substance use will only lead to more difficulties. United efforts to promote conscious thinking and providing support to those who are making headway in their battle against health conditions is the only way forward to a safe, inclusive and happy future.

This article is authored by Dr Vikram Vora, medical director, India subcontinent, International SOS.

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