Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Charity warns of loneliness among cancer patients


Around 400,000 people with cancer in the UK are lonely, with some skipping meals and unable to afford food, a charity has warned.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s survey of more than 1,000 people with the disease found 22% suffered loneliness as a result of their diagnosis.

The charity said many were left housebound due to their cancer, causing isolation and knock on problems such as a poor diet.

The research also compared the experiences of cancer patients who said they were lonely with those who say they were not.

It found lonely people were three times more likely to admit drinking more alcohol than usual (22% compared to 7% for those who were not lonely).

They were also five times more likely to have not left the house for days (66% compared to 14%) and almost three times more likely to have problems sleeping (76% compared to 27%).

Lonely cancer patients were also five times more likely to skip meals (38% compared to 7%) and almost eight times more likely to eat a poor diet (45% compared to 6%).

Some 13% said they could not afford to buy food although other key reasons included having no food in the house, being too weak to cook and having no appetite.

People reported being particularly lonely if their cancer was advanced or had relapsed, they lived alone, or they had to make changes to their working life.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Loneliness is blighting the lives of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients in the UK.

Ciaran Devane

“It’s hard enough for people being hit with the devastating news that they have cancer, without having to suffer the additional effects that being lonely brings. It’s heartbreaking to think of people struggling to eat or leave the house because they have been abandoned and left to deal with cancer alone.

“This is a growing problem which is only set to get worse as the number of people diagnosed with cancer doubles from two to four million in the next 20 years.”

Mr Devane said the NHS, policymakers and local authorities needed to “wake up to this looming loneliness epidemic” and work with the charity to ensure nobody faced cancer alone.

Clare Redgrove, 49, from Kent, was diagnosed with womb cancer in 2010.

She said: “Being diagnosed with cancer has been a very lonely experience. I went from being a busy person running my own business to living on benefits.

“As I live alone, there were days when I’d find it hard to find the energy to feed myself let alone get out of my house. I feel under tremendous stress, my sleep has suffered, and it all seems even worse now that my treatment is over.”

Jack Neill-Hall, campaigns manager for the Campaign to End Loneliness, said: “When we feel lonely we can sometimes forget to look after ourselves properly.

“In fact, researchers have shown that feeling lonely can lead us to not exercising enough, eating a poor diet and having an increased likelihood of smoking and drinking too much. Unfortunately, these very behaviours can often contribute to us becoming ill, or aggravate other conditions outside of our control.

“It is vital that we understand the link between loneliness and ill health so that we can break the negative cycle of loneliness exacerbating ill-health and vice versa.

“By ensuring that our public health and care services are aware of the risks of loneliness, we can do more for people who may be suffering from cancer, disability, or duel sensory loss and make sure they are well looked after, but also better able to look after themselves.”


Are you able to Speak out Safely?

Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS


Readers' comments (3)

  • I can see why this can happen, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago, but fortunately had myself and family to care for her, but I had to continue working, and our children are grown and have their own lives, so even through the best of intentions, there were times when my wife was by herself, one day when at work, after leaving the house at 7.30 am and then getting home at 6pm, my wife, who was having chemotherapy at the time, had not moved position, and had not eaten or drank in the hours I had been gone, this was a catalyst in myself then taking 3 months off work due to the stress of work and caring at home as well. A problem my wife encountered when finished treatment is the preconception that all is well, instead of the fact of the continued side effects of chemo and radiotherapy, she had some very understanding colleagues at work, but some were not (We are both mental health nurses) she certainly felt alone at work sometimes, due to others attitudes, fortunately things are on the up, but it has took a long time. This is also not helped by cancer survivors then being lumped in with the same sickness policy when simple colds can floor survivors for days due to those side effects, if organisations recognise the issues that arise with surviving cancer and the effects of chemo and radio for months/years after, then this would help to alleaviate some issues that can happen.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • life is hard enough even for the fit and healthy elderly who have no family or friends living close by. if you have a medical query there is nobody there to help you far less offer any support. trying to access any medical services is like beating your head against a brick wall. you get your 10 minutes to digest new information and that is it. anything else which arises after as a result then tough and even if you have given your services to the healthcare of others all your career. It is bad enough being left out in the dark and on your own with minor health problems and days when you may not feel up to going about your daily chores or have the energy to go out and buy your food in adverse weather conditions where you may have to stand outside waiting about for unreliable public transport. Goodness knows what it is like for those without family or friends close by who suffer from more serious illnesses which may be ongoing or chronic.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I am an RGN in a Nursing Home, have worked in hospital as well. Recently one of the residents in a Nursing Home has been diagnosed with Cancer and that's it. He is left to deal with it. He has appointment after appointment. Consultants just telling him what they are going or not going to do. Where is a support? We are trying our best, but we have very little or no training to do so. I tried to raise this issue several years ago. There is no support for people with Cancer once they left the consultants room or hospital. There is no support for families of cancer patients. Please, we do really need to be aware, wake up and do much more. I would love to have trainings and become Cancer Support Nurse. This is my dream. I could do so much more for people. For this particular resident at this moment of time when his life falling to pieces I can give so little.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs