7 May 2014
Macmillan warns of potential loneliness epidemic with the number of people diagnosed with cancer set to double by 2030.
Almost a third of Scots living with cancer – an estimated 60,000 people - are suffering from loneliness as a result of their illness.
Macmillan Cancer Support says new research shows loneliness can leave patients housebound and unable to feed themselves properly – and Scots patients are the loneliest in the UK.
The Ipsos MORI research on behalf of Macmillan, found 31% of Scots (58,000 people) with cancer are lonelier since diagnosis, compared to 16% in Wales and 21% in England. The research shows for the first time ever, the detrimental impact of being lonely on the lives of people living with cancer.
It compares the experiences of cancer patients who say they feel lonely or lonelier since their diagnosis with those who don’t – and the differences are stark.
Lonely cancer patients in the UK are:
- Three times more likely to drink more alcohol than they usually do (22% vs. 7%) – affecting an estimated 13,000 lonely people with cancer in Scotland.
- Almost five times more likely to have not left the house for days (66% vs. 14%) - affecting an estimated 39,000 people in Scotland.
- Almost three times more likely to have problems sleeping (76% vs. 27%) - affecting an estimated 45,000 Scots cancer patients.
For many, their diet also suffers. Lonely cancer patients are five times more likely to skip meals (38% vs. 7%) - affecting an estimated 22,000 cancer patients in Scotland. They are also almost eight times more likely to eat a poor diet (45% vs. 6%) - affecting an estimated 27,000 lonely Scots patients.
Patients gave a number of reasons for not eating properly, including lack of appetite, having no food in the house and being too weak to cook.
However 13% of lonely cancer patients across the UK who have skipped meals say it is because they cannot afford to buy enough food.
Lanarkshire man John Hughes says he felt incredibly lonely and low while coping with lung and skin cancer – despite having family and friends to support him.
The 64-year-old Blantyre man, who lost his voice after a vocal cord was cut during an operation to remove one of his lungs, said: ‘I felt very lonely when I had cancer. I would come home from treatment and go to bed. I didn’t want to do anything else. I didn’t want to see people, I didn’t care about eating properly, it was a hassle to even go for a shower.'
‘For the first year after my operation I couldn’t talk to anyone on the phone and even talking to people face to face was hard because my voice was so whispery. That was really hard. I spent a lot of him at home alone and there’s only so much you can read.'
'I had my wife to support me but I still felt very alone. I can’t imagine how terrible it must be for someone who is dealing with cancer without anyone around them. I really think I would have felt suicidal in that situation.’
Elspeth Atkinson, director of Macmillan in Scotland, said ‘loneliness is affecting the lives of thousands of cancer patients in Scotland and this research shows the impact it can have on them is huge.'
‘With the number of people diagnosed with cancer expected to double from 190,000 to almost 400,000 in the next 20 years, we are facing a loneliness epidemic. We want to be there for all cancer patients who need us and have a range of services to help including our information and support services, a support line and an online community.'
‘These services are a lifeline to people affected by cancer. But we simply can’t help everyone who needs us now, let alone those who will need us in the future so we need more public donations and support. We also need the NHS, policy makers and local authorities to continue to work with us to provide these vital services to ensure no one faces cancer alone.’
People with cancer who are most likely to feel lonely include those with cancer that is advanced or has spread or relapsed, those living alone, and those who have made a change to their working life.
Find out how to get support from Macmillan or about how to volunteer or fundraise for the charity or call 0808 808 00 00.