One in five county cancer patients face isolation

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One in five of the 2,950 newly-diagnosed cancer patients in Northamptonshire, an estimated 550 patients each year, lack support from family and friends during their treatment and recovery, according to new research published today (February 11) by Macmillan Cancer Support.

Of these, an estimated 200 people each year, will receive no help whatsoever, facing cancer completely alone, says the charity.

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 the detrimental effects of isolation on the lives of those living with cancer are far-reaching. More than half (53 per cent) of isolated patients have skipped meals or not eaten properly due to a lack of support at home. More than one in four (27 per cent) have not been able to wash themselves properly, while three in five (60 per cent) have been unable to do household chores.

David Crosby, general manager of Macmillan Cancer Support in Central and South West England, said: “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.”

The charity says that isolation also makes it harder for cancer patients to self-manage their medical care. More than one in ten (11 per cent) have missed appointments to hospital or their GP, while one in six (18 per cent) 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 per cent) of people living with cancer surveyed haven’t had a visit from friends or family in more than six months.

For some, isolation seems to be a direct result of their cancer diagnosis. More than one in six (18 per cent) have lost touch with family or friends because of their diagnosis, while four in five (80 per cent) say the financial impact of cancer means they can’t afford to see their family or friends as much.

In support of what cancer patients themselves are saying, The Facing the Fight Alone report also found that more than half (53 per cent) of health professionals have had patients opt not to have treatment at all due to a lack of support at home from family and friends.

Nine in ten (89 per cent) of health professionals felt that a lack of support at home leads to a poorer quality of life for patients, while more than half felt that it can lead to poorer treatment decisions and a shorter life expectancy.

Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on health professionals to adopt the recommendations in the Facing the Fight Alone report.

To read the report, or to find out more about the Not Alone campaign, visit www.macmillan.org.uk.