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Lonely cancer patients face more treatment problems, warns charity

Loneliness is “particularly toxic” to cancer patients, a charity has said after a poll found that patients who feel alone are much more likely to struggle with their treatment plans.

Many patients are missing appointments, not taking their medication properly, are unable to pick up prescriptions or even refusing treatment, Macmillan Cancer Support said.

The cancer charity said lonely patients were almost three times more likely to encounter such problems as patients who are not lonely.

Its poll of more than 1,000 people from across the UK who had ever been diagnosed with cancer found that 22% have been lonely since their diagnosis.

Almost a third (31%) of those who said they had been lonely said they faced at least one issue with their treatment plan compared with 11% who had not felt alone.

The charity said that lonely patients may not have the support they need to get through treatment.

“It is simply unacceptable that so many cancer patients feel emotionally alone”

Ciarán Devane

“Lonely cancer patients may not have the practical support they need to get out of the house and attend their appointments, or pick up prescriptions, especially if they can’t drive or live in a remote area,” said Jacqui Graves, head of health and social care at Macmillan Cancer Support.

“Or they may feel emotionally overwhelmed and too anxious to attend appointments or have treatment. We know patients who have only attended appointments because friends or family persuaded them.”

Charity chief executive Ciaran Devane said: “We already know that loneliness may be as harmful as smoking but this research shows for the first time that it is particularly toxic to cancer patients.

Ciarán Devane

Ciarán Devane

“It is simply unacceptable that so many cancer patients feel emotionally alone or lack practical support to such an extent that they are missing appointments, unable to take their medicine or even refusing treatment, and that it’s putting their recovery at risk,” he said.

“With Britain currently the loneliness capital of Europe and the cancer population set to double to four million by 2030, the problem’s only going to get worse. We need to urgently tackle it now,” said Mr Devane.

“That’s why we’re calling on health professionals to identify lonely cancer patients and make them aware of the support available so that they don’t have to go through their cancer alone,” he added.

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