Over eight in 10 women with breast cancer in England are not told about the possibility of developing long-term anxiety and depression by healthcare professionals, charities have warned.
Two charities, Breast Cancer Care and Mind, have united to call for mental health after breast cancer to be made a priority.
“These upsetting figures highlight the stark reality of life after breast cancer”
Samia al Qadhi
They are calling for everyone with breast cancer to be told about the potential long-term emotional impact, and offered mental health support for when they need it.
It comes in the wake of new survey findings that reveal 84% of women with breast cancer in England are not told about the possibility of developing long-term anxiety and depression by healthcare professionals.
The landmark survey of nearly 3,000 women with breast cancer in England, carried out on behalf of Breast Cancer Care, found 33% experienced anxiety for the first time in their lives after their diagnosis and treatment.
The charities highlighted that, “shockingly”, 45% experienced continuous fear that the cancer may return, which can severely impact day-to-day life.
The survey also found 8% of women with breast cancer have a panic attack for the first time as a result of their breast cancer diagnosis or treatment.
The charities warned that, as the routine of hospital appointments suddenly ends, women with breast cancer can often feel alone, without adequate support and unsure where to find help.
“If nothing else, starting the conversation means that the person is more likely to recognise the impact their condition”
In addition, the survey found 19% of women with breast cancer experience social isolation after their hospital treatment ends, with 75% more socially isolated than they were at diagnosis.
Meanwhile, 13% of women with breast cancer leave the house less after finishing hospital treatment due to emotional and physical long-term side effects.
Of these, 35% said it was because they felt too anxious, 34% did not want to speak to other people, and 26% were too self-conscious about changes to their appearance.
Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of Breast Cancer Care, said: “These upsetting figures highlight the stark reality of life after breast cancer and why we are taking a stand with Mind to make support for people’s mental health a priority.
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“Damaged body image, anxieties about the cancer returning and debilitating long-term side effects can disrupt identities and shatter confidence, leaving people feeling incredibly lonely, and at odds with friends, family and the outside world,” she said.
“We know people expect to feel better when they finish treatment and can be utterly devastated and demoralised to find it the hardest part,” she said.
“And though the NHS is severely overstretched, it’s crucial people have a conversation about their mental health at the end of treatment so they can get the support they need, at the right time,” she added.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, said: “It’s really important that anyone receiving treatment for a physical health problem has attention paid to their mental health and overall wellbeing.
He said: “Health professionals should treat each person as a whole and, if treating someone for their physical health, also offer ongoing support for their mental health.
“If nothing else, starting the conversation means that the person is more likely to recognise the impact their condition may have on their wellbeing and feel able to seek support if they need it,” he said.
He added: “We need to see longer term support for those who are either receiving or coming to the end of their cancer treatment.”