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Plight of cancer survivors highlighted by charity

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Half a million cancer survivors are living with debilitating consequences of the disease, a charity has warned.

Macmillan Cancer Support said that 500,000 people who have survived cancer have gone on to face disability and poor health.

They are suffering from pain, chronic fatigue, bowel and urinary problems including incontinence, mental health issues and sexual difficulties, the charity said.

It warned that the NHS has been “woefully unprepared” to help cancer survivors.

In a new report, the charity also highlights that cancer and its treatment can increase the risk of other serious conditions.

Women living with or after breast cancer are almost twice as likely to get heart failure compared to those who have not had it while men who have had prostate cancer are 2.5 times more likely to get osteoporosis compared to those who have not, the report states.

And at least 200,000 cancer survivors are “left with pain” from surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

The research showed that one in five people diagnosed with breast, bowel or prostate cancer report “moderate or extreme pain or discomfort” up to five years after diagnosis.

The charity said that progress in cancer survival is a “double-edged sword”.

“Put simply, the better we get at treating and curing cancer patients, the more people we will have living with the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment - in other words, progress is a double-edged sword,” said Macmillan Cancer Support’s chief medical officer Professor Jane Maher.

“Many of these problems can be managed using simple and inexpensive interventions by health professionals, while other more complex issues require specialist services.

“Too many cancer survivors are suffering in silence. If they do speak up, doctors and nurses need to be confident in discussing such problems, so consultations are helpful - otherwise it is a poor use of precious NHS resources.”

Charity chief executive Ciaran Devane added: “For far too long the NHS has underestimated the severity of this issue and is woefully unprepared to help cancer survivors now and in the future.

“We are urging them to ensure that all cancer patients receive a ‘cancer recovery package’ at the end of their treatment offering ongoing support. No-one should be left to face the long-term consequences of cancer alone.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “NHS England has the ambition of high quality care for all which means people should receive safe, effective care with a positive experience.

“The Macmillan report draws attention to the changing nature of the challenges the NHS has to meet. This is why we have launched a ‘call to action’ as we need to engage the public and professions in a dialogue about how we create an NHS that meets people’s need in a personal way and is fit for the future rather than based on a 20th century model.”


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Readers' comments (1)

  • As a cancer survivor and health care manager, I can relate to the above article on both sides. I work full time (financial pressures) and have young children. I get up each morning and put a smile on, to face to the world, supporting service users and staff. Ignoring the fact that in my 40's I suffer from joint pains, early menopause, recurrent chest pains & infections and no motivation for my previous healthy life style or sex! My drive and motivational days are few and far between, but the fact that people see me as 'getting on with it', helps me believe that a great deal of the 'aftershock' of cancer is in the mind. I could easily roll over some mornings and shut the whole lot out. The professionals need to listen very carefully to their patients and read between the humour and "I'm fine" lines...more needs to be done around mental health and the physical will automatically kick start in to improving.

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