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Realising the potential of greater collaboration for women living with cancer

Published on 27/01/20 at 11:44am

Following the launch of a new global report, 'Supporting women with cancer', Lynn Talyroe, Senior Vice President, Head of Healthcare Global Government and Public Affairs, Head of Corporate & Government Relations USA at Merck KGaA, discusses the unique challenges faced by women living with cancer and the importance of providing more tailored support.

Despite the number of policies aimed at eliminating and reducing risk factors, and promoting early detection, the number of cancer cases continues to rise globally. In fact, the World Health Organization has estimated that between 2008 and 2030, the number of new cancer cases is expected to increase by more than 80% in low-income countries, and 40% in high-income countries [1].

It is widely known that cancer is one of the most significant health burdens that we face today, and its often-indiscriminate nature means that men and women, young and old, are all affected. Sadly, almost everyone has a personal connection, knowing someone or having lost someone to this devastating disease.

While the landscape continues to change with advances in cancer diagnosis and management, we should not underestimate the importance of related support services, which allow people living with and through the disease to maintain their daily lives. 

Our latest report, ‘Supporting Women With Cancer’, assessed the unique challenges that women diagnosed with cancer face and explored the societal support available, revealing that improvement is needed when it comes to increasing awareness of and access to support for women, particularly emotional, financial, employment, and fertility support.

The report, which presents findings from a 23-country survey, showed that only 20% of women believe they receive enough support to manage family and work responsibilities around their cancer. In order to enhance and improve the lives of diagnosed women, they must have access to tailored support; however, only 42% of women worldwide have accessed support services.

Providing women with the right information enables them to make informed decisions about their cancer care and health. For example, family planning support or related advice should be proactively offered to all women of childbearing age living with cancer as it can have an impact on treatment choice. However, over half of these women surveyed were not offered the relevant advice from their healthcare professional.

Our research also brought to light an opportunity for employers to better demonstrate and improve how their employees are treated following a cancer diagnosis. Most women were worried about the negative impact of informing their employer of their diagnosis, being particularly concerned about potential changes being made to their employment status or how they are perceived at work. Through alleviating job security fears, employers can better support women living through and beyond cancer at work.

Additionally, parenting concerns have a significant impact on the mental and emotional health of women living with cancer, yet it was found that the rate of childcare support was negligible for those who informed their employer of their diagnosis. From a financial standpoint, overall, 42% of women agree that cancer and its treatment has impacted their personal finances. That’s why we are committed to improving awareness of caregiving responsibilities through [Embracing Carers] [2], a global initiative founded by Merck KGaA that looks at the often-overlooked needs of caregivers and develops practical support solutions collaboratively with global caregiving organisations.

Each woman’s experience with cancer is unique to her situation. In particular, our research shows how experiences differ on the basis of age, location, and a country’s economy (as measured by Gross Domestic Product). For women in lower-middle income countries, over half (52%) believed they were stigmatised more than men, and three out of four of these women (74%) believed that cancer and its treatment had impacted their personal finances. Women in these countries were also the most concerned about changes being made to their employment status once their employer knew of their diagnosis.

Among women in high-income countries, family planning support was shown to be a concern, with a majority (55%) not being offered any fertility or family planning advice. These women were also the least likely to be offered childcare support by their employers. By understanding the need for varying support options and services, we can further explore a tailored approach that prioritises the unmet needs in each demographic – for example, targeting services to older women in areas where there is an older demographic.

As a society, we are all responsible for creating an equitable environment for women that not only gives them access to health solutions, but builds their awareness of the options available to them to advance their health and well-being. Our ‘Supporting Women With Cancer’ report clearly shows that the struggle of women with cancer is a global one, and policy and legislation are essential to address the burden of the disease.

Our research identified several critical areas that warrant immediate discussion and further assessment. These include exploring how support services can be tailored to meet the needs of different demographics of women, taking action to ensure all women of childbearing age living with cancer have access to fertility and family planning advice, and engaging with employers to ensure that workplaces have the tools and resources to support women through and beyond a cancer diagnosis.

That’s why our company is the private-sector partner of the Healthy Women, Healthy Economies initiative [3], which brings together governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to help improve women’s health and well-being. We aim to raise awareness of how health and prosperity are intertwined for women and offer ways to advocate change for patients and their families. Our Healthy Women, Healthy Economies policy toolkit outlines policies that employers can implement to best support women through many facets of their health, including health access and awareness, reproductive health, and work/life balance.

Improving our understanding of the challenges faced by women living with cancer is only the first step in creating better outcomes for women. I hope our findings provide some of the insights needed to inform meaningful discussion and subsequent action on how we can better collaborate as patients, governments, healthcare professionals, employers, academics, and other stakeholders to support women impacted by cancer.

About ‘Supporting Women With Cancer’

The ‘Supporting Women With Cancer’ report is based on a survey supported by Merck and designed with input from the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), of 4,585 women across 23 countries.

This research, aimed at understanding the unique challenges that women living with cancer face across the globe, is part of Merck’s KGaA commitment to the Healthy Women, Healthy Economies initiative. Healthy Women, Healthy Economies is a global initiative that convenes multisector stakeholders to address women’s health so they, and their families, can thrive in their communities and live better lives. Health and prosperity are intertwined for women, and that is why Merck KGaA is committed to doing its part by generating knowledge through research, forming meaningful collaborations, advocating for change, and living the mission through our internal company commitments. 

For more information, read the full report and its recommendations at https://www.merckgroup.com/content/dam/web/corporate/non-images/company/responsibility/en/Supporting-Women-With-Cancer-Report-MERCK-FINAL.pdf

References

1. www.who.int/cancer/resources/keyfacts/en

2. https://www.embracingcarers.com/en_US/home.html

3. www.emdgroup.com/en/company/responsibility/our-strategy/global-health/hwhe.html

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