One in four cancer patients in the UK lack support from family and friends during their treatment and recovery, new research suggests.
According to the Facing the Fight Alone report published by Macmillan Cancer Support, the lack of support applies to 23% of the 325,000 cancer patients diagnosed each year - an estimated 70,000 patients.
Worryingly, a third of those - an estimated 20,000 people each year - will have to face cancer completely alone.
The report, which looked at the number, profile and experiences of isolated cancer patients, found 53% of health professionals have seen patients opt out of treatment due to a lack of support network.
The majority (89%) of health professionals felt a lack of support at home led to a poorer quality of life for patients, while over half felt it could result in poorer treatment decisions and a shorter life expectancy.
The effects of isolation on the lives of cancer patients include skipping meals or not eating well, being unable to wash properly, and being incapable of doing household chores.
Isolated patients may also find it hard to self-manage their medical care, with 11% missing hospital or GP appointments at one point, and 18% unable to pick up prescriptions for their medication.
“This research shows that isolation can have a truly shattering impact on people living with cancer,” said chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support Ciarán Devane.
“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.”