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Around 1,600 cancer patients in Devon each year face the disease with too little support from family and friends.
And around four hundred of them have to cope completely alone.
That's according to Macmillan Cancer Support.
More than one in three of us will get cancer. For most of us it will be the toughest fight we ever face. And the feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many people experience make it even harder.
The charity says each year around 6,650 people in Devon are diagnosed with cancer. It's carried out a study which has led to the Facing the Fight Alone report – which looks at the number, profile and experiences of isolated people living with cancer across the UK.
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.
Isolation also makes it harder for cancer patients to self-manage their medical care. 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.
In support of what cancer patients themselves are saying, The Facing the Fight Alone 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%).
Our reporter Wendy Buckingham's been talking to Macmillan's Clare Monks CLICK HERE
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 health professionals to adopt the recommendations in the Facing the Fight Alone report.
To read the Facing the Fight Alone report, or to find out more about the Not Alone campaign, visit www.macmillan.org.uk.