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Long-term cancer survivors ‘need more support’

by In collaboration with Adfero | News

7 January 2010

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An increasing number of people are surviving cancer, but many do not receive the services and support they need in the long term, Macmillan Cancer Support has said.

Medical advances and improvements in detecting the disease mean that people with cancer today are much more likely to survive than in the past.

Figures show that of the two million people who are currently living with, or have survived, cancer in the UK, over 1.2 million were diagnosed more than five years ago.

While this improvement in survival is welcome, Macmillan Cancer Support is concerned that many long-term survivors do not have access to the services they need.

An ICM poll of 1,001 people, commissioned by the charity, found that 94 per cent expected a full assessment of their ongoing needs; 92 per cent felt there should be a discussion about the potential side-effects of treatment and how to manage them; and 89 per cent thought each patient should receive a personalised care plan after treatment had ended.

None of these three practices are standard for patients in the UK who have completed treatment for cancer.

Mike Hobday, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, commented: “Far too many distressed cancer survivors are left to suffer alone.

“It’s great that people are surviving cancer, but we cannot desert them after their initial treatment is over. That’s why we’re urging the government to see this issue as a priority and take action now.”

Experts are concerned that the situation is going to get worse unless action is taken, as the number of people diagnosed with cancer is rising by 3.2 per cent each year in the UK.

This means that a growing number of people will be cancer survivors and may need support for long-term physical and emotional problems, which include blood clots, nerve damage, lymphoedema, hot flushes, impotence, depression and anxiety.

In light of this, Macmillan is urging the government to introduce a post-treatment assessment and care plan as standard for everyone who finishes treatment for cancer.

The charity also wants all people to be provided with information about the possible consequences of cancer and its treatment, as well as advice and support on lifestyle issues and how to manage the long-term consequences of their condition.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said that the growing number of cancer survivors in the UK is “a reflection of the great advances being made through research”.

“The pace of progress sometimes means that for very new treatments, little is known about longer-term side-effects, but it is important for patients to be as well informed as possible. Our CancerHelp UK website has a wealth of information which patients find very helpful,” he continued.

“We fully support the NHS plans to improve the information cancer patients receive and are working with the health service and Macmillan to develop cancer information prescriptions. As cancer research develops we aim to bring new and better treatments to patients that will improve survival and have fewer side effects.”