NHS not prepared for issues faced by cancer survivors, says study

NHS not prepared for issues faced by cancer survivors, says study

Britain’s health service is not prepared for the issues faced by the growing number of cancer survivors who live on after being diagnosed at a young age, a study published on Monday warns. Almost 80,000 people currently alive in the UK were diagnosed before the age of 45 with cancers traditionally associated with older age: breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers, new figures released by Macmillan Cancer Support and Public Health England reveal.

Those people may have been largely cured but many will be living with symptoms and side-effects of treatment, Macmillan said. The charity is calling on the government to commit to funding long-term “recovery packages”.

The data reveals for the first time that 66,500 women are alive who were diagnosed under the age of 45 more than 10 years ago, as well as 10,000 people with colorectal cancer, 2,000 people with lung cancer and 550 men with prostate cancer. Macmillan warned many may not return to full health for decades, or the rest of their lives, after serious side-effects from treatment.

“I was only 27 when I was told I had cancer after suffering six months of pain which I put down to irritable bowel syndrome or bad kebabs,” Luke Bennett, 33, told the charity.

“Treatment was tough so the last day of chemotherapy was the best ever but seven years on I’m still living with some side-effects: my fingers feel weird, my body does ache and I get pain in my kidneys.”

The figures come amid growing concern at how to fund treatment for 2.5 million people of all ages who have had cancer, a figure predicted to rise to 4 million by 2030.

“There is cause to celebrate that a cancer diagnosis does not necessarily mean the death sentence it used to,” said Juliet Bouverie, director of services at Macmillan. “But the sad reality is that many people of this age may be struggling to hold down a job, support a family, and deal with the emotional impact of cancer whilst also going though treatment …

“Macmillan is urgently calling on the new government to commit to ensuring that every person with cancer receives an assessment of their emotional, physical, spiritual and social needs. Only in this way will the NHS be able to support a rapidly growing number of cancer survivors and give them a decent quality of life in the years after treatment ends.”

Meanwhile, a second study launched at the same Cancer Outcomes conference in Belfast will reveal that far fewer people receive potentially life-saving surgery if they are diagnosed with cancer in an emergency than if they detect their symptoms earlier and receive an urgent referral from a GP. Just one in five women with breast cancer underwent surgery, considered the highest impact treatment for cancer, after being diagnosed in an emergency compared to four out of five when referred by a GP. Kidney cancer patients are also far more likely to have surgery if diagnosed by their GP (70%) than in an emergency (30%).

“It reinforces the fundamental need to avoid late diagnosis, as those diagnosed as a result of an emergency presentation to hospital are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage disease when surgery is less likely to be an option,” said Sara Hiom, UK director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, which compiled the report alongside Public Health England’s national cancer intelligence network.

Overall, the proportion of cancer patients who had major surgery after an emergency diagnosis in hospital was lower than after an urgent GP referral for 19 of the 20 cancer types examined in the report.

Dr Mick Peake, lead clinician at PHE’s national cancer intelligence network, said: “These findings offer two key messages; that earlier diagnosis is crucial to improve cancer survival, and that all cancer patients being admitted as an emergency must be assessed by the appropriate specialist team to ensure they receive the optimum treatment.”

By Robert Booth,

The Guardian Monday 08 June 2015

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