8 August 2014
Macmillan estimates loneliness putting 21,000 cancer patients’ recovery at risk
Cancer patients who are lonely are three times more likely to struggle to follow their treatment plan than those who aren’t lonely, according to research by Macmillan Cancer Support .
Using research conducted by Ipsos MORI, Macmillan has estimated that more than 20,000 lonely cancer patients in the UK each year are missing appointments, not taking their medicine properly, are unable to pick up prescriptions or are even refusing some types of treatment.
Overall, more than one in five (22%) cancer patients experience loneliness following diagnosis, and those who are lonely are nearly three times more likely to have issues following their treatment plan than those who aren’t (31% vs. 11%).
Among cancer patients who are lonely:
• 1 in 30, an estimated 2,100 skipped treatment appointments
• 1 in 17, an estimated 4,200 didn’t take medicine as they should
• 1 in 8, an estimated 9,000 were unable to pick up their prescriptions
• 1 in 11, an estimated 6,200 refused some types of treatment
Worryingly, 1 in 20 (5%) lonely cancer patients refused treatment all together.
Mabel Macartney, 61, from Cheshire, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, says:
“None of my family or friends live near me, so although I could stay with a friend after surgery, when I was told I’d need six months of chemotherapy the only thing going through my mind was: How am I going to cope?
“I couldn’t ask anyone to stay with me for such a long time or afford to be off work with no one else to help pay the mortgage. So I turned the chemotherapy treatment down.
“It was a horrible situation to be in, alone with life-changing decisions to make and I know I risked the chance of the cancer returning.”
Evidence shows that for many cancer patients, not having treatment can hinder their survival. For example, a Canadian study reveals that breast cancer patients who received treatment were almost twice as likely to survive five years following diagnosis than those who refused treatment.
Macmillan believes there are a number of reasons why lonely cancer patients may be unable to complete treatment.
Jacqui Graves, Head of Health and Social Care at Macmillan Cancer Support says:
“Lonely cancer patients may not have the practical support they need to get out of the house and attend their appointments, or pick up prescriptions, especially if they can’t drive or live in a remote area.
“Or they may feel emotionally overwhelmed and too anxious to attend appointments or have treatment. We know patients who have only attended appointments because friends or family persuaded them.”
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “We already know that loneliness may be as harmful as smoking4 but this research shows for the first time that it is particularly toxic to cancer patients.
“It is simply unacceptable that so many cancer patients feel emotionally alone or lack practical support to such an extent that they are missing appointments, unable to take their medicine or even refusing treatment, and that it’s putting their recovery at risk.
“With Britain currently the loneliness capital of Europe5 and the cancer population set to double to four million by 2030, the problem’s only going to get worse. We need to urgently tackle it now.
“That’s why we’re calling on health professionals to identify lonely cancer patients and make them aware of the support available so that they don’t have to go through their cancer alone.”
If you or someone you know is feeling lonely and going through cancer, there are lots of ways Macmillan can help support you. If you need information, or just someone to talk to, the Macmillan Support Line team is here for you on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am–8pm). The Macmillan Online Community is open 24/7 and is full of supportive people who understand how you feel and what you are going through, join today http://community.macmillan.org.uk
To help Macmillan ensure no one faces cancer alone please donate at www.macmillan.org.uk/Donate
For further information, please contact:
Catherine Jones, Media Officer, Macmillan Cancer Support
0207 091 2496 (out of hours 07801 307068)
Notes to Editors:
 Estimates based on Macmillan Cancer Support and Ipsos MORI research into isolation and people living with cancer.
• Research methodology:
• Online survey of 1,065 UK adults who have ever been diagnosed with cancer. Fieldwork took place between 12 and 30 September 2013. 1,000 interviews were carried out using Ipsos MORI’s Online Access Panel, with an additional 65 sourced from Macmillan’s contacts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Survey data has been weighted by gender, age and nation using 2008 cancer prevalence estimates.
• 15 telephone and 5 face-to-face depth interviews with people living with cancer, to explore their experiences in more detail.
• The research found that 22% of people living with cancer (252 out of the 1,065 survey sample) have been lonely since their cancer diagnosis, or more lonely than they were before. Research findings amongst those who are lonely are therefore based on 252 people.
• The research found that 31% of those who are lonely since their diagnosis, or more lonely than they were before, have faced at least one issue following treatment plan, compared to 11% of those who are not lonely since diagnosis.
• Among cancer patients who are lonely:
• 1 in 30 (3%) skipped treatment appointments
• 1 in 17 (6%) didn’t take medicine as they should
• 1 in 8 (13%) were unable to pick up their prescriptions
• 1 in 11 (9%) refused some types of treatment
 Macmillan estimates by applying survey results to the estimate of total number of patients first treated for cancer each year in the UK (315,000) based on aggregated quarterly cancer waiting statistics for 2013-2014 (April 2013-March 2014) from each nation. Data sourced from: Department for Health, ISD Scotland, Welsh Government, and Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. Please note: A patient may have more than one primary cancer for which they received treatment for within the same 12 months and hence may be double counted. Estimate of 21,000 calculated by taking the total estimate of those first treated for cancer each year and multiplying by the proportion who are lonely (22%), to arrive at an estimated population of 69,000 lonely people living with cancer receiving first treatment each year. This number has then been multiplied by the proportion who face issues with their treatment plan (31%) to arrive at an estimated population affected of 21,000.
 Joseph K, Vrouwe S, Kamruzzaman A, Balbaid A, Fenton D, Berendt R, Yu E, & Tai P (2012). Outcome analysis of breast cancer patients who declined evidence-based treatment. World Journal of Surgical Oncology, 10 (1) PMID: 22734852 .
 http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health . Source data: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000316&representation=PDF. See also: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/4636683/Loneliness-as-harmful-as-smoking-and-obesity-say-scientists.html
 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10909524/Britain-the-loneliness-capital-of-Europe.html. Source data: Office for National Statistics report ‘Measuring National Well-being: European Comparisons, 2014’ http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_363811.pdf