Loneliness and cancer

It is natural to sometimes feel lonely and isolated at different times following your cancer diagnosis and during or after treatment.

Feeling alone when you have cancer

It is natural to sometimes feel lonely and isolated at different times during your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes you still feel like this after treatment finishes.

You may feel lonely even when you are with other people. It may seem like no one understands what you went through. You might feel you have to be brave. This could be because you do not want to upset your family and friends by talking about your feelings.

Why you might feel lonely

There can be many reasons why you might feel lonely. You may miss the routine of treatment or the relationships you had with hospital staff. If your appearance has changed, you may be less confident about going out. For example, this could be because of hair loss or changes to your weight. These changes can be difficult to cope with, even if they are not obvious to everyone.

Side effects such as tiredness may mean you do not go out as much as before. Your family and friends might not realise you feel lonely. Or they may think you want time to yourself.

If you are back at work, you may feel lonely if you or your colleagues are uncomfortable talking about cancer. Some people may assume that you are fine because you are back at work. We have more information about returning to work after treatment and talking to colleagues that may help.

Loneliness can be worse if you find it difficult to talk about your feelings. Sometimes it may feel easier to tell people you are okay even if you are not. You may find yourself giving people other reasons for not talking, such as ‘I’m just feeling tired’.

If you live alone

Living alone can add extra stress when you are coping with cancer. You may usually like being independent, but being ill may make you feel lonely and frightened.

It is okay to ask for help. If you can, ask your friends and family. They often want to help but do not know the best way to do this.

Some people may find it difficult to support you emotionally, but could help in practical ways. For example, people might be able to help you with shopping or household tasks. You could make a list of practical things that need to be done. Then, if people offer to help but are not sure what to do, they can choose something from your list.

Other people may be comfortable talking with you about how you are feeling. Talking with them can help you share your worries and fears.

If you do not have anyone who you can ask for help, Marie Curie has a free helper service in some parts of the UK. Someone can visit you to have a chat or just be there to listen. Or they can help you get to an appointment, do the shopping or help with household tasks.

Your GP, social worker or community nurse can also help. They can tell you what help and support is available from local health, social care and voluntary organisations.

Coping with loneliness

Talking to other people about your feelings can help you feel less alone. Talking to family, friends or a partner might reassure you. Or you might find it more useful to talk to someone in a similar situation to you.

Support from Macmillan

  • Visit our emotional support forum to talk with people who are dealing with the emotional impact of cancer, share your experience, and ask an expert your questions.
  • You may find that joining a support group gives you a place to talk.
  • You can also call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions about cancer and your feelings. Or they can just listen.

Macmillan Buddies

Macmillan Buddies are trained volunteers who often have a cancer experience or know someone who has. They can support you with a weekly phone call.

Sign up to receive a weekly call from a Macmillan Buddy.


Help to Overcome Problems Effectively (HOPE) is a course to help people after cancer treatment. It was developed by Hope for the Community and Macmillan Cancer Support. This course is run in small groups. It is free and takes place at different locations across the UK.

Macmillan also delivers an online HOPE programme, which is a 6-week self-management course based on an online platform. You can learn more and book onto an online HOPE course.

About our information

This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer.

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our diagnosis and staging information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk


    Common mental health problems: identification and pathways to care. Clinical guideline [CG123]. Published: May 2011. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg123 (accessed November 2022).


    Depression in adults: treatment and management. NICE guideline [NG222]. Published: June 2022. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng222 (accessed November 2022).


    Maheu C, Singh M, Lam Tock W, Eyrenci A, Galica J, Hébert M, Frati F and Estapé T. Fear of Cancer Recurrence, Health Anxiety, Worry, and Uncertainty: A Scoping Review About Their Conceptualization and Measurement Within Breast Cancer Survivorship Research. Front. Psychol., 12 April 2021. Sec. Psycho-Oncology. Available from: www.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.644932 (accessed November 2022).

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2023
Next review: 01 November 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
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  • use illustrations to explain text
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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.