Cancer patients ‘let down in their time of need’

Getting the all-clear is not the end of the struggle says Clare Smith, that's when support is essential. Picture: TSPL
Getting the all-clear is not the end of the struggle says Clare Smith, that's when support is essential. Picture: TSPL
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Many cancer patients are “left to struggle” following the end of their treatment, a charity has said.

Physical problems which can arise as a result of some cancer treatments such as incontinence, difficulty eating or breathlessness as well as mental health issues can mar people’s recoveries, according to a new report.

But Macmillan Cancer Support said that many patients are being “let down at their time of need”.

People are twice as likely to survive for a decade after a cancer diagnosis compared to 40 years ago.

But many who survive their illness are living in poor health, the charity said.

Macmillan surveyed more than 2,000 people with a previous cancer diagnosis for its latest report, titled Am I meant to be OK now?, and found a third (34 per cent) were still struggling with their physical well-being up to two years after treatment ended.

Two in five said they still had moderate or extreme pain or discomfort two years after finishing treatment.

The majority of patients (80 per cent) who had physical difficulties in the two years after treatment said they lacked full support to get their lives back on track.

Former patients were also suffering emotional problems, with three in ten reporting that their emotional well-being was still affected two years after completing treatment.

Of these, 90 per cent said they lacked support.

The Macmillan report states that instead of feelings of elation and relief when treatment is over, patients frequently experience depression or anxiety – often as a result of feeling that they are not able to “get back to normal”.

The charity called on the NHS to ensure that each patient has a “recovery package” of personalised post-treatment support.

Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support Lynda Thomas said it was “tragic” that so many people are left struggling after their cancer treatment ends.

She added: “Life is often profoundly different after the roller coaster of diagnosis and treatment ends, with people contending with serious physical and emotional issues.

“The health and care system has a long way to go in terms of fully supporting people after cancer treatment.

“The NHS must ensure that every single person who is treated for cancer gets the support that is right for them after treatment – far too many cancer patients are badly being let down in their time of need.”

Maggie’s Research Lead and Consultant Clinical Psychologist Lesley Howells, said they provided much-needed support for survivors and had developed a programme at their centres throughout the UK.

She added: “As cancer survival rates increase, so does the need for long term mental health support for survivors.

“Family, friends and employers – as well as survivors themselves – should recognise that it’s normal to struggle with adjusting to life post cancer, and understand that support is waiting for them at Maggie’s.

“Our Where Now? programme, available at all our Centres, can significantly improve symptoms.

“Findings show that the participant’s confidence grew considerably and they demonstrated feelings of relief from support within the group and discovering that their problems are not unique.”

An NHS spokeswoman said they were rolling out a ‘Recovery Package’ to ensure all patients receive the right support.