NEW YORKScreening for breast cancer in the workplace saves money as well as lives, according to a study commissioned by Zeneca Inc. To emphasize this important message to business, the results were presented in a news conference held on Wall Street at the New York Stock Exchange.
Based on its own experience, the Wilmington, Del, pharmaceutical company determined that the cost of its breast cancer screening program was offset by significant savings in treatment costs had the cancers been detected at later stages.
"Over the 7-year life of our program, we have seen a net direct cost savings of $1.1 million," said A. Keith Willard, Zeneca chairman. He urged the business community to look to the Zeneca model in setting up their own screening programs for employees, calling it a "win-win situation for all concerned."
Zeneca is the founder of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a co-founder of the Industries' Coalition Against Cancer, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to encouraging small and large businesses to implement worksite screening programs for employees.
In 1989, Zeneca established its on-site screening facility, offering employees free screening mammograms, instruction in breast self-examination, and referrals for clinical examination and follow-up for women with abnormal mammograms. To date, nearly 2,500 age-eligible women have been screened, with a screening compliance rate double the national norm.
Mr. Willard said that an analysis of that program showed that Zeneca had saved 16 times its original investment, as well as the lives of 12 women whose breast cancers were detected early.
A Harris poll, conducted in connection with the Zeneca program, showed that the majority of working women still do not have access to breast cancer education or screening through their work.
Of the women polled, more than 80% said they believed that companies offering some type of education or screening program value their employees and their health, and are "good corporate citizens"; 83% said they would use such a program if it were available; and 60% said that their loyalty to employers would be enhanced if a breast cancer screening program were offered.
"Clearly, there are indirect benefits of such programs," Mr. Willard said. "In addition to lower health insurance costs, employers will benefit from lower rates of absenteeism and employee turnover, as well as improved morale."
Mr. Willard pointed out that the dollar value of worksite screening increases in proportion to the size of the company. Nonetheless, he said, there are options for smaller companies for whom on-site programs may not be feasible. Among these are pooling resources with other small companies to share the costs of educational materials and a mobile screening van, for example, and enlisting the support of local hospitals and county, state, and federal health departments.
Zeneca is publishing a series of how-to guides for starting and maintaining workplace cancer screening programs. The HealthSite guides, based on Zeneca's own experience with work-site preventive programs for breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer, will be available free of charge to other businesses that wish to study the feasibility of establishing similar programs (see below).
To order guidelines
The first two HealthSite guides, on breast and prostate cancers, will be available in late 1996. They can be ordered, free of charge, from Karen L. Miller, Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, P.O. Box 15437, Wilmington, DE 19850-5437.
"We want to send a message to corporate America about worksite cancer screening programs," Mr. Willard said. "If you build it, they will come."
Following Zeneca's lead, The Rite Aid Corporation has established a worksite mammography initiative, providing on-site screening mammograms for employees at its corporate headquarters, Harrisburg, Penn. The company plans to expand the program within the next year to all 30,000 of its employees, said Suzanne Mead, vice-president of corporate communications. A year-round educational component is also in development.
Nancy Lee, MD, associate director for science in the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, pointed out that the worksite is the ideal place for cancer screening. "Targeted cancer screening programs in the workplace take advantage of a captive audience. They remove time and travel barriers, and can utilize existing facilities and programs," she said.
But, Dr. Lee cautioned, "a mammogram alone never saved anyone's life." Prompt treatment is what saves lives, she said, adding that the employer's responsibility does not end with the mammogram. Referral, encouragement, and financial help in obtaining treatment are essential for all women with abnormal mammograms.
Dr. Lee also stressed the need for periodic rescreening, since screening rates tend to drop off with age despite the fact that cancer rates increase with age.
The CDC has dedicated $140 million to the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, Dr. Lee said, and worksite-based cancer screening initiatives are an important part of that effort. To further the early detection program, she added, the CDC has enlisted partners in the private sector, including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and National Center for Farmworker Health.