New Cancer Patients 'Facing It Alone'

One in four of the 8,050 newly diagnosed cancer patients in Hampshire - an estimated 1950 patients each year - lack support from family and friends, according to new research by Macmillan Cancer Support.

Of these, an estimated 450 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 across the UK, found that there were detrimental effects of dealing with cancer alone on peoples' ability to recover.

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.

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.

Sandy Heward from Ringwood, who has had breast cancer, says, ''It was really after the treatment finished that I felt quite alone.  It was more afterwards. Once the treatment finished you’re quite elated but the elation soon goes because of course you are worried that the cancer might come back. I just found myself sitting at home and watching television, I got very down. I’ve been told it’s quite a common feeling. For a year the hospital runs your life, you’ve got so many appointments to go to and the chemo and they absolutely run your life 24/7 and then all of a sudden there’s nothing, no appointments to go to, no treatment and it’s a real big shock to the system.''

The report also found that 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%).

David Crosby, General Manager of Macmillan Cancer Support in Central and South West England 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 the government to do more to make sure patients get the help they need.

To read the Facing the Fight Alone report visit www.macmillan.org.uk.

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