‘Toxic’ cost of loneliness to cancer patients

Loneliness is 'particularly toxic' for cancer patients, a charity has warned.''Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

Loneliness is 'particularly toxic' for cancer patients, a charity has warned.''Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

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Loneliness is “particularly toxic” to cancer patients, with patients missing appointments, not taking medication properly or even refusing treatment, a survey has found,

Patients who feel alone are much more likely to struggle with their treatment plans, Macmillan Cancer Support said.

The charity spoke to more than 1,000 people from across the UK who had been diagnosed with cancer, and found that 22 per cent have been lonely since their diagnosis.

It also found that lonely patients were almost three times more likely to encounter such problems as patients who are not lonely.

Almost a third of those who said they had been lonely said they faced at least one issue with their treatment plan compared with 11 per cent who had not felt alone.

The charity is calling on health professionals to identify lonely cancer patients and make them aware of the support available to get them through treatment.

“Lonely cancer patients may not have the practical support they need to get out of the house and attend their appointments, or pick up prescriptions, especially if they can’t drive or live in a remote area,” said Jacqui Graves, head of health and social care at Macmillan Cancer Support.

“Or they may feel emotionally overwhelmed and too anxious to attend appointments or have treatment. We know patients who have only attended appointments because friends or family persuaded them.”

The Yorkshire Post launched its Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign in February after revealing the shocking scale of loneliness in the region.

Evidence suggests that loneliness is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can also heighten risk of dementia and high blood pressure.

Charity chief executive Ciaran Devane said: “We already know that loneliness may be as harmful as smoking but this research shows for the first time that it is particularly toxic to cancer patients.

“It is simply unacceptable that so many cancer patients feel emotionally alone or lack practical support to such an extent that they are missing appointments, unable to take their medicine or even refusing treatment, and that it’s putting their recovery at risk.

“With Britain currently the loneliness capital of Europe and the cancer population set to double to four million by 2030, the problem’s only going to get worse. We need to urgently tackle it now.

“That’s why we’re calling on health professionals to identify lonely cancer patients and make them aware of the support available so that they don’t have to go through their cancer alone.”

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