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One in four (23%) of the 325,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients in the UK - an estimated 70,000 patients each year - lack support from family and friends during their treatment and recovery, according to new research published by Macmillan Cancer Support12. And a third of those (7%) – an estimated 20,000 people each year - will receive no help whatsoever, facing cancer completely alone.
The Facing the Fight Alone| report – which looks at the number, profile and experiences of isolated people living with cancer - found more than half (53%) of health professionals have had patients opt not to have treatment at all due to a lack of support at home from family and friends3. Nine in ten (89%) health professionals felt that a lack of support at home leads to a poorer quality of life for patients, whilst over half felt that it can lead to poorer treatment decisions (54%) and a shorter life expectancy (56%).
The detrimental effects of isolation on the lives of people living with cancer are far-reaching. More than half (53%) of isolated patients have skipped meals or not eaten properly due to a lack of support at home. More than one in four (27%) have not been able to wash themselves properly, while three in five (60%) have been unable to do household chores.
Isolation also makes it harder for cancer patients to self-manage their medical care. Over one in ten (11%) have missed appointments to hospital or their GP, while one in six (18%) have been unable to pick up prescriptions for their medication.
Family members and friends living too far away, having other commitments or patients just having no-one to turn to are the most common reasons patients lack support. Other than a visit from a health professional, one in eight (12%) of people living with cancer surveyed haven’t had a single visit from friends or family in over six months.
For some, isolation seems to be a direct result of their cancer diagnosis. Over one in six (18%) have lost touch with family or friends because of their diagnosis, while four in five (80%) say the financial impact of cancer means they can’t afford to see their family or friends as much.
Lis Blyth, 66, Surrey, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, says:
'Living alone, I didn’t have the energy to do anything during my radiotherapy, so I just lived on readymade meals. There were days when I went to bed having had nothing more than a glass of milk and a biscuit because I was too exhausted to cook. That was four years ago, but even now, due to the long term side effects of the treatment, I’m often still too exhausted to get on a bus and shop for food.
'With the exception of the doctor who diagnosed me, none of the hospital staff ever asked how I was or if I could support myself at home.'
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
'This research shows that isolation can have a truly shattering impact on people living with cancer. Patients are going hungry, missing medical appointments and even deciding to reject treatment altogether which could be putting their lives at risk — all because of a lack of support.
'But these figures are just the tip of the iceberg. As the number of people living with cancer is set to double from two to four million by 2030, isolation will become an increasing problem and we need to address this now. That’s why we are launching a new campaign to help tackle this crisis and to ensure that in future, no-one faces cancer alone.'
Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on health professionals to adopt the recommendations in the Facing the Fight Alone report.
To read the report, or to find out more about the Not Alone campaign, visit http://www.macmillan.org.uk/notalone|
For cancer support every step of the way call Macmillan on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm) or visit macmillan.org.uk
Sarah Ross, Media and PR Manager, Macmillan Cancer Support
020 7840 4722 (out of hours 07801 307068)
1 This estimate represents 23% of the 325,000 people diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK. The 23% comes from Macmillan research and represents the proportion of people living with cancer who say they received no support from friends or family during treatment or recovery, or only received support some of the time/occasionally. Latest UK cancer incidence figures (2010) are sourced from: Office for National Statistics; Information Services Division (ISD) Scotland; Welsh Cancer Intelligence & Surveillance Unit; Northern Ireland Cancer Registry. This estimate assumes that everyone who receives a cancer diagnosis receives cancer treatment, and that only people newly diagnosed with cancer are at risk.
2 Macmillan Cancer Support/YouGov online survey of 1,794 people living with cancer in the UK. 437 respondents were identified as isolated (i.e. received no support from friends or family during treatment or recovery, or only received support some of the time/occasionally) and completed a follow-up interview. Fieldwork conducted 10-20 July 2012, with additional interviewing conducted in Northern Ireland 26 November – 13 December 2012. Survey results are unweighted.
3 Macmillan Cancer Support/ICM online survey of 155 UK health professionals who treat people living with cancer (55 GPs, 50 oncologists, and 50 cancer clinical nurse specialists). Fieldwork conducted September 2012. Survey results are unweighted.
More than one in three of us will get cancer. For most of us it will be the toughest fight we ever face. And the feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many people experience make it even harder.
But you don’t have to go through it alone. The Macmillan team is with you every step of the way.
We are the nurses and therapists helping you through treatment. The experts on the end of the phone. The advisers telling you which benefits you’re entitled to. The volunteers giving you a hand with the everyday things. The campaigners improving cancer care. The community there for you online, any time. The supporters who make it all possible.
Together, we are all Macmillan Cancer Support.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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