Cancer accounts for almost a third (29%) of all long-term sickness claims paid in the past year, latest claims data from Unum reveals.
The insurer said this was more than all claims paid for musculoskeletal, nervous system and heart and circulation issues combined. These totalled 24% of claims paid in the past 12 months.
Data from Unum's first annual claims statement which covered the 1700 claims paid between 1 August 2014 and 31 July 2015 showed mental health was the second biggest cause of long-term absence, with one in six (18%) of all income protection claims paid by Unum relating to stress, anxiety or depression.
Findings also showed less than two fifths of employees covered by Unum were female, despite women making up almost half (47%) of the workforce.
Men (57%) were more likely to have income protection than women (43%) with thousands of females without it at risk if they were unable to work due to illness.
While cancer and mental health issues were the main causes behind income protection claims over the past 12 months, one in 10 claims were due to a musculoskeletal condition such as tendonitis or a back problem.
Conditions associated with the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's, resulted in 7% of claims, and heart and circulation related issues also led to 7% of claims.
In addition, one in four (24%) claims were paid to employees under 40.
Unum head of public affairs John Letizia highlighted that one in 10 people would be unable to work for six months or more due to illness at some point during their working life, adding: "A key concern for us is looking at why fewer women are accessing income protection and what we can do with employers, brokers and as an industry to ensure employers are offering equal benefits to all staff along with equal pay."
"This data shows businesses which health conditions are most likely to affect their workforce so they can put the right steps in place to support employees should they fall ill," he added.
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