A quarter of cancer patients are not receiving support from their families or friends after their diagnosis.
This is according to a new report by the UK charity Macmillan Cancer Support, which found that one in four (23%) of the 325,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients in the UK lack support from family and friends during their treatment and recovery.
It also found that a third of those – an estimated 20,000 people each year - will receive no help whatsoever, and are forced to face cancer alone.
Isolation also makes it harder for cancer patients to self-manage their medical care, and 11% have missed appointments to hospital or their GP, while one in six have been unable to pick up prescriptions for their medication.
The Facing the Fight Alone report, which looks at the number, profile and experiences of isolated people living with cancer - found more than half of health professionals have had patients opt not to have treatment at all due to a lack of support at home from family and friends.
It found that 89% of health professionals felt that a lack of support at home leads to a poorer quality of life for patients, whilst over half felt that it can lead to poorer treatment decisions and a shorter life expectancy.
Macmillan says that the detrimental effects of isolation on the lives of people living with cancer are far-reaching.
Lis Blyth, 66 from Surrey, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and says: “Living alone, I didn’t have the energy to do anything during my radiotherapy, so I just lived on readymade meals. There were days when I went to bed having had nothing more than a glass of milk and a biscuit because I was too exhausted to cook. That was four years ago, but even now, due to the long term side effects of the treatment, I’m often still too exhausted to get on a bus and shop for food.
“With the exception of the doctor who diagnosed me, none of the hospital staff ever asked how I was or if I could support myself at home.”
Family members and friends living too far away, having other commitments or patients just having no-one to turn to are the most common reasons patients lack support.
Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “This research shows that isolation can have a truly shattering impact on people living with cancer. Patients are going hungry, missing medical appointments and even deciding to reject treatment altogether which could be putting their lives at risk — all because of a lack of support.
“But these figures are just the tip of the iceberg. As the number of people living with cancer is set to double from two to four million by 2030, isolation will become an increasing problem and we need to address this now. That’s why we are launching a new campaign to help tackle this crisis and to ensure that in future, no-one faces cancer alone.”