Loneliness epidemic warning for Scots with cancer

Almost a third of Scots living with cancer suffer from loneliness as a result of their illness, new research has revealed.

A third of Scots with cancer face loneliness because of their condition, according to new research. Picture: Ian Rutherford
A third of Scots with cancer face loneliness because of their condition, according to new research. Picture: Ian Rutherford
A third of Scots with cancer face loneliness because of their condition, according to new research. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The Macmillan Cancer Support study shows the detrimental impact the emotion can have, leaving patients housebound, unable to feed themselves properly and likely to drink more.

And the charity warned of a looming “loneliness epidemic” as the number of people with cancer is expected to double in the next 20 years.

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The Ipsos Mori research on behalf of Macmillan found Scots patients with cancer are lonelier than those in the rest of the UK.

According to the poll, 31% of Scots (58,000 people) with cancer are lonelier since diagnosis, compared to 16% in Wales and 21% in England.

Elspeth Atkinson, director of Macmillan in Scotland, said: “Loneliness is affecting the lives of thousands of cancer patients in Scotland and this research shows the impact it can have on them is huge.

“With the number of people diagnosed with cancer expected to double from 190,000 to almost 400,000 in the next 20 years, we are facing a loneliness epidemic.

“We want to be there for all cancer patients who need us and have a range of services to help including our information and support services, a support line and an online community.”

She added: “These services are a lifeline to people affected by cancer. But we simply can’t help everyone who needs us now, let alone those who will need us in the future, so we need more public donations and support.

“We also need the NHS, policy makers and local authorities to continue to work with us to provide these vital services to ensure no-one faces cancer alone.”

The study found that across the UK, lonely patients are three times more likely to drink more alcohol than they usually do. This affects an estimated 13,000 lonely people with cancer in Scotland.

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They are almost five times more likely to have not left the house for days (affecting an estimated 39,000 people in Scotland) and almost three times more likely to have problems sleeping (an estimated 45,000 Scots cancer patients).

Lonely cancer patients across the UK are also five times more likely to skip meals, (an estimated 22,000 cancer patients in Scotland), while they are almost eight times more likely to eat a poor diet. This affects an estimated 27,000 lonely Scots patients.

John Hughes, 64, from Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, said he felt incredibly lonely and low while coping with lung and skin cancer - despite having family and friends to support him.

Mr Hughes, who lost his voice after a vocal cord was cut during an operation to remove one of his lungs, said: “I felt very lonely when I had cancer. I would come home from treatment and go to bed.

“I didn’t want to do anything else. I didn’t want to see people, I didn’t care about eating properly, it was a hassle to even go for a shower.

“For the first year after my operation I couldn’t talk to anyone on the phone and even talking to people face to face was hard because my voice was so whispery. That was really hard. I spent a lot of time at home alone and there’s only so much you can read.

“I had my wife to support me but I still felt very alone. I can’t imagine how terrible it must be for someone who is dealing with cancer without anyone around them. I really think I would have felt suicidal in that situation.”

The research was carried out between September 12 and 30 2013 through an online survey of 1,065 UK adults who have ever been diagnosed with cancer.