By Adam Gretton
, Health correspondent
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Hundreds of newly-diagnosed cancer patients in Norfolk and Suffolk are fighting the disease on their own, according to a new report.
Shocking figures released by Macmillan Cancer Support today reveal that almost a third of patients say they lack support from family and friends and do not know who to turn to after being told they have cancer.
The cancer charity’s Facing the Fight Alone report said that the east of England and London were the least supportive regions in the UK for people with cancer.
Officials from Macmillan said family and friends living too far away or being too busy were the most common causes of isolation.
The report’s authors surveyed 1,700 men and women suffering from cancer and more than 150 healthcare professionals during their research and estimate that 1,350 out of 4,450 newly diagnosed cancer patients a year in Norfolk lack support during cancer treatment and recovery. An estimated 550 people of those will receive no help whatsoever, they add.
In Suffolk an estimated 1,100 patients each year do not get enough support and 450 people battle the disease on their own.
The report said that 12pc of cancer patients in the East feel completely isolated during their cancer treatment and recovery, compared to 7pc in the Midlands, 6pc in the North and 6pc in the South.
Gwyneth Tyler, senior Macmillan development manager, called on patients to speak to healthcare professionals if they felt they lacked support.
“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,” she said.
The report found that the detrimental effects of isolation on the lives of people living with cancer are far-reaching with more than half skipping meals or not eating properly due to a lack of support at home. More than one in four have not been able to wash themselves properly, while 60pc have been unable to do household chores.
Rachel Narkiewicz, from Thetford, who was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in August 2011, said she immediately felt isolated because of a lack of information about head and neck cancers and she felt she had nothing in common with other cancer patients.
“My diagnosis was a complete smack in the face. Because of the anxiety at the end of my treatment, I struggled to leave the house. I’m usually very outgoing and sociable.”
“I was crying all the time. I had been a single parent for many years so I was strong and independent. I can’t begin to describe the fear and desperation I felt. If anything could be different I would say that there needed to be more awareness of the psychological impact. It was mentioned but not enough. I didn’t recognise it when it happened- the terror. It was a massive shock,” she said.
The charity urges healthcare professions to always ask patients if they have support and urged family members and friends of people with cancer to be aware that talking to someone about their cancer or treatment is unlikely to increase their distress.
Isolation also makes it harder for cancer patients to manage their medical care, with 11pc missing appointments to hospital or their GP, while one in six have been unable to pick up prescriptions for their medication.
The Facing the Fight Alone report also found that more than half 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.