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An increasingly common life-changing disease

Article written by Lonwabo Tshabangu and Darshana Kooverjee (Liberty Corporate)

Cancer remains a silent killer that threatens the lives of many in South Africa. Facing this potentially deadly disease may result in life-long scars, often leaving one discouraged and feeling defeated.

While cancer is a vast and complex illness which ranges across many types and forms for both men and women, breast cancer and prostate cancer are currently two of the most common cancers, both in South Africa and globally.

In the past, there have been various campaigns held across the world that aim to increase awareness of certain cancers. These have ranged from providing pink ribbons and pink beer mugs at international cricket matches to illuminating the White House in Washington D.C with rose-coloured lights for breast cancer awareness. In 2016 we also witnessed our very own Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg light up in bright pink. Even during the COVID-19 global pandemic, we once again witnessed a number of powerful initiatives. These included virtual national walkathons to mammovans offering mammography tests. This “Movember”, many men are expected to once again grow moustaches to raise awareness of conditions such as prostate cancer.

According to the 2017 National Cancer Registry report released in December 2020, there were over 18 755 observed cases of breast and prostate cancer, with 52% of these cases accounting for breast cancer and 48% accounting for prostate cancer. Even more alarming is that women between the ages of 25 and 65 accounted for over two-thirds of those diagnosed with breast cancer, while prostate cancer was seen to be most common for men above the age 45.

Breast cancer in men is rare but real. The National Cancer Registry indicates an increase in the breast cancer incidence rate for men of approximately 29% between 2007 and 2017. Many argue that there may be a lack of information and awareness in society about breast cancer affecting men. This, together with the stigma associated with it, often results in many men suffering in silence.

According to the National Cancer Registry report, prostate cancer has been found to be the most common cancer in South African men since 2016 with over 8 900 cases observed in 2017. If diagnosed with either breast or prostate cancer, men may be subjected to not only the financial implications but also the psychological consequences of having the disease.

In addition, consideration must be given to the current times we are living through. The World Health Organization reported that approximately 75% of countries globally experienced a negative impact on the accessibility of cancer care systems as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. With hospitals flooded, lockdown restrictions and the health care system strained, access to health care for diagnosis or treatment of cancer has been made even more challenging. This is over and above the many other challenges already faced by those affected by cancer.

Cancer can have a significant impact on one’s lifestyle, often creating a need for further financial assistance. For example, in addition to having surgery to remove cancerous tissue, patients may be required to undergo treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy which sometimes necessitates a great amount of time off work.

But what if sick leave or annual leave has been exhausted and one must resort to unpaid leave?

Sympathetic employers may offer their employees discretionary leave. However, in tough economic environments, such as the current one we see ourselves living through (as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic), the absence of employees and the added cost of funding discretionary leave can have a significant financial impact on a business. This may be particularly true for small- to medium-sized enterprises.

Group critical illness products can enable employers to provide a protective mechanism for their employees in these types of situations.

While disability products can provide protection of an individual’s income, a claim is only accepted if certain terms are met, as defined in the relevant policy. For example, some claims are only admitted if an individual is unable to perform their current, or a similar, occupation. After being diagnosed with cancer, an individual may still be able to perform their own occupation. During this time, they would also be required to manage the costs of assistance, or additional practical and personal care needs. Lifestyle changes with associated financial implications could be a reality and this is where critical illness products, which pay a lump sum on diagnoses of serious illnesses, can be of significant benefit.

The number of cancer cases in South Africa continues to increase as more women, and men, are being diagnosed annually. South Africa is a developing country, and comprehensive disability products may not be accessible to many individuals due to its associated cost. Group critical illness products can play a key role in addressing this gap by enabling employers to provide an affordable alternative to their employees.

Liberty Corporate is a proud Partner of the NSBC