Rise in cancer survival is 'a double-edged sword'

Rise in cancer survival is 'a double-edged sword'


The number of people surviving cancer has risen to more than two million, and is projected to double by 2020 thanks to major breakthroughs in treatment and diagnosis. But research by Macmillan Cancer Support has found that one in four survivors is left suffering long-term debilitating health conditions as a result of the disease, or the treatment for it. At least 200,000 patients who recovered from cancer were left in pain, often related to nerve changes after surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, the report found. One in five of those diagnosed with breast, colorectal or prostate cancer report moderate or extreme pain or discomfort up to five years after diagnosis.



Professor Jane Maher, the charity’s chief medical officer said: “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.” Studies have found that women who suffer 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 more than twice as likely to get osteoporosis compared with those who have not had it. One in three of men who underwent treatment for prostate cancer and one in eight patients who had surgery for bowel cancer later suffered from continence problems.



Prof Maher said: “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.” Ciarán Devane, the charity’s chief executive, said: “For far too long the NHS has underestimated the severity of this issue and is woefully unprepared to help cancer survivors now and in the future. We are urging them to ensure that all cancer patients receive a ‘cancer recovery package’ at the end of their treatment offering ongoing support.” Mr Devane said patients should not be left to face the long-term consequences of cancer alone.



In March, ministers launched plans to provide more help to those struggling with the aftermath of the disease, after a study found that three quarters of patients who undergo treatment are discharged with little support or advice. A study of more than 70,000 patients found just 24 per cent had been given a care plan, setting out what they should expect, with advice on where to turn for help. Research also found that cancer survivors are 37 per cent more likely to be unemployed than those who have not had the disease. Under the new plans, those recovering from the disease would also be given access to information regarding employment rights and benefit entitlements. Studies have found that half of cancer survivors say the emotional effects of the disease are the most difficult to deal with.



A spokesman for NHS England said: “NHS England has the ambition of high quality care for all which means people should receive safe, effective care with a positive experience. "The Macmillan report draws attention to the changing nature of the challenges the NHS has to meet. This is why we have launched a ‘Call to action’ as we need to engage the public and professions in a dialogue about how we create an NHS that meets people's needs in a personal way and is fit for the future rather than based on a 20th century model.”





By Laura Donnelly



The Telegraph, 19 July 2013









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