19 October 2009
Consultants, GPs and other healthcare professionals are failing to provide information and advice about the long-term effects of breast cancer treatment, that could drastically improve the lives of many of the half a million women (550,000) either living with or after the disease in the UK.
During breast cancer awareness month, Macmillan Cancer Support is highlighting the fact that two in every five breast cancer survivors (40 per cent)† are not aware of the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment, yet four in every five (84 per cent)† have experienced at least one physical health problem within the last 12 months.
Jane Maher, a breast cancer expert and Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support says:
'Many women are surviving breast cancer, but then being left to cope alone without the information and support that could make a massive difference to their lives.
'The improvement in survival rates has been one of the success stories of this decade, but we cannot desert women after their initial treatment is over.
'That’s why we’re urging the Government and health professionals to find new ways to help breast cancer survivors help themselves, as well as cope with any ongoing needs they may have now or in the future.'
Of the breast cancer survivors who went to see their GPs about the physical and emotional problems they were experiencing, only just over half of these doctors (57 per cent) mentioned cancer and treatment as a possible cause†.
Brenda, 42, from Oxfordshire says:
‘My youngest child was just a year old when I was told I had breast cancer in 2003. Treatment was unpleasant, but it’s years later with all the after effects that have been unexpectedly tough. I thought I’d have treatment and that was the end of it, but I’ve suffered depression, severe joint pain and all the symptoms of the menopause. My GP wouldn’t have told me this is all linked to treatment if I hadn’t asked. I just want to feel normal again.’
Fatigue, nerve damage, hot flushes, early menopause and lymphoedema are just some of the physical long-term problems that can affect breast cancer survivors. Many of these symptoms seem minor on their own, but added up, they can delay women’s recovery from their cancer treatment, cause unnecessary anxiety and reduce women’s sense of well being and self esteem to such an extent that they are unable to work.
Research also shows that women who have survived breast cancer are more likely to develop another cancer, heart problems and thin bones (osteoporosis) than those women who have not had breast cancer‡.
The good news is that many women are more motivated to adopt a healthy lifestyle, which can reduce the chances of developing these illnesses, than those who have not had a cancer±. However, Macmillan’s report showed that more than one in three (34 per cent)† survivors are not aware that a healthy lifestyle is particularly important for cancer survivors.
Macmillan believes there are some simple measures that can and should be introduced to support cancer survivors, including:
every woman who finishes treatment should be offered a post-treatment assessmentas part of that plan
women should be provided with information about possible consequences of breast cancer and its treatment and simple lifestyle advice about diet, exercise and stopping smoking
there should be clear and swift access back into the specialist system if a woman’s health needs change
GPs need to be enabled to support women living beyond cancer, in the form of a standardised electronic treatment record, which is easily accessed online during a consultation.
Macmillan Cancer Support can provide information on the long-term effects of breast cancer, for more information call Macmillan on 0808 808 00 00 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk.
*CASE STUDIES ARE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST*
For further information, please contact:
Anna Brosnan, Macmillan Cancer Support
020 7840 7818 (out of hours 07801 307068)
Notes to Editors
About the research:
† Macmillan Study of the Health and Wellbeing of Cancer Survivors - Follow up survey of awareness of late effects and use of health services for ongoing health problems, Macmillan Cancer Support, 2008. 176 of the original participants that had had breast cancer from the original survey took part in this detailed follow up survey.
‡ Joseph F. Fraumeni Jr., Rochelle E. Curtis, Brenda K. Edwards, Margaret A. Tucker, Chapter 1, New Malignancies Among Cancer Survivors: Seer Cancer Registries data,1976-2000
± Demark-Wahnefried W, Peterson B, McBride C, Lipkus I, Clipp E, 2000, Feb 1, Cancer, 88 (3): 674-84
About Macmillan Cancer Support:
Macmillan Cancer Support improves the lives of people affected by cancer, providing practical, medical, emotional and financial support. Working alongside people affected by cancer, Macmillan works to improve cancer care. One in three of us will get cancer. Two million of us are living with and beyond cancer. www.macmillan.org.uk