The NHS is woefully unprepared to help the rapidly growing number of cancer survivors, according to Macmillan Cancer Support.
At least one in four people living with cancer – over 500,000 in the UK - experience a wide range of long-term debilitating health conditions caused by their cancer, according to a new report by Macmillan Cancer Support. The Cured – but at what cost? report – which looks at the long-term consequences of cancer and its treatment - shows that cancer survivors have an increased risk of other serious conditions.
Women living with or after breast cancer are almost twice as likely to get heart failure compared to those who have not had it, while men who have had prostate cancer are 2.5 times more likely to get osteoporosis compared to those who have not had it.
The report also reveals that at least 200,000 cancer survivors are estimated to be left with pain, often with nerve changes after surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. In particular around one in five diagnosed with breast, colorectal or prostate cancer report moderate or extreme pain or discomfort up to five years after initial cancer diagnosis.
Other cancer survivors face urinary and gastrointestinal problems which affect their quality of life. More than one in three (39%) men diagnosed with prostate cancer up to five years previously reported urinary leakage. While one in eight (13%) people who had colorectal cancer surgery at least two years previously needed to wear a pad in case of bowel incontinence all or most of the time during the day.
Richard Surman, 68, London, says: "I was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2007 and had chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I felt like I had been burnt to a crisp inside and out and was in agony for months afterwards. Using the lavatory became a nightmare. Then I was hit with bowel incontinence - although it’s more controlled now, I still suffer from periodic bowel incontinence six years later. Having changed my own children’s nappies, it’s ironic that at 68 I’m now the one who needs nappies."
The report also looks at the other troublesome consequences of cancer and its treatment such as: chronic fatigue, mental health issues, sexual difficulties and lymphoedema.
Professor Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer of Macmillan Cancer Support, says: "Put simply, the better we get at treating and curing cancer patients, the more people we will have living with the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment. In other words, progress is a double-edged sword.
"Many of these problems can be managed using simple and inexpensive interventions by health professionals, while other more complex issues require specialist services. Too many cancer survivors are suffering in silence. If they do speak up, doctors and nurses need to be confident in discussing such problems, so consultations are helpful - otherwise it is a poor use of precious NHS resources.'