31 January 2024

Cancer caution: international employers must beware of first-world prevalence

This World Cancer Day, Sunday 4 February, Towergate Health & Protection is warning of the prevalence of cancer in first-world countries when it comes to supporting the health and wellbeing of overseas employees.

Employers would be forgiven for thinking that it is low-income countries, with poorer healthcare and low sanitation, where employees face the greatest health risks, but one health threat in particular is actually more prevalent in high-income countries: cancer.

Cancer is reported as one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide, accounting for nearly one in six deaths.1 It tends to be more prevalent in high-income countries due to lifestyle factors.2 Indeed, around one in three deaths from cancer are due to tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity.1

The highest reported cancer rate is in Denmark, at 334.9 people per 100,000, followed by Ireland, Belgium, Hungary, France, The Netherlands, Australia, Norway, New Caledonia and Slovenia, all with over 300 cases per 100,000 people.3

Sarah Dennis, Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection, says: “Reported cancer rates are higher in high-income countries and so, typically, are treatment costs. So it is important that employers understand the implications and have health and wellbeing plans in place to support people.”


The survivability of cancer is closely linked to early detection. Screening plays a crucial role in early diagnosis and can help to detect cancers even before symptoms develop. With not all countries offering screening, employers can provide crucial access via their health and wellbeing programmes.

Global cost differences

Cancer treatments and the associated costs also differ around the globe. Even the costs of just the cancer drugs themselves vary hugely from country to country. Drug prices are generally highest in the US and average $8,694 per person, per month. This figure is $3,173 in China and $1,515 in India.4

With treatment for individual cases of cancer potentially costing hundreds of thousands of pounds it is vital that employers of staff overseas have plans in place to ensure employees, wherever they’re based, will receive the appropriate care. As medical knowledge and technology may not be advanced in all regions, employers should also include options to go to a different region for treatment if needed.  

Sarah Dennis says: “Because of the significant differences in cancer risks, treatments and survival rates from country to country, it is important that employers take expert advice on what is needed where, and provide a broad range of support to all overseas employees.”


Companies with overseas employees can play an important role in educating their workforce about cancer prevention and lifestyle choices. They can also put wellbeing benefits in place to assist a healthier lifestyle. These may include fitness trackers, nutrition advisers, gym membership, and smoking cessation assistance.

Communication and education

The final part of the puzzle is to ensure that the availability of screening and treatment is widely and regularly communicated. Employees overseas may benefit from education on the causes of cancer and what best they can do to lessen their risk. They also need to be aware of any support the company has made available, such as screening and the benefits this can have in improving outcomes.


1Cancer (who.int)
Cancer Rates by Country 2024 (worldpopulationreview.com)
Global cancer data by country | World Cancer Research Fund International (wcrf.org)
A global comparison of the cost of patented cancer drugs in relation to global differences in wealth - PMC (nih.gov)