Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

Facing the fight alone: Cancer, isolation and loneliness


“One in four people diagnosed with cancer in the UK will lack support from family and friends during their treatment and recovery – that represents more than 70,000 people each year.”

“More than half (53%) of healthcare professionals say patients have decided to skip treatment altogether because they have no support from family or friends.”

“Almost three-fifths (58%) of those who lack support during their treatment and recovery say it’s because their family and friends are too busy or live too far away.”

These are just eom of the headline statistics from a new report by Macmillan Cancer Support, who surveyed more than 1,700 recently diagnosed cancer patients and 150 healthcare professionals who treat cancer patients. Participants were asked to talk about the social support they received during treatment, and what effect this had on their physical and emotional wellbeing.

This latest research adds to a growing evidence base demonstrating the serious and detrimental impact of loneliness and isolation on our mental and physical health. It particularly highlights the relationship between loneliness and poor health, and how isolation can have a direct influence on harmful behaviours. Key findings include:

  • Isolation is a direct result of their cancer diagnosis: just over one in six (18%) of those who lack support say they lost touch with family and friends because of their diagnosis
  • Isolated patients were less like to manage their medical and personal care: More than one in six have been unable to collect a prescription for their medication and 53% have skipped meals or not eaten properly
  • Serious ill health increases our risk of loneliness and isolation: 80% of respondents said the financial cost of cancer means they can’t afford to see their family or friends as much.

The research also identified one step that could be taken to overcome this issue: Over a third of healthcare professionals and 47% of GPs “do not always ask if a patient has support from family or friends”.

There are many solutions to preventing and alleviating loneliness including advocacy support. But an important first step is to ensure all healthcare professionals (and other frontline workers) are aware that loneliness is a serious, and mutually reinforcing problem for many people. This group includes cancer patients who as our project is beginning to demonstrate. We need to continue to takes steps to raise awareness amongst healthcare professionals on the purpose and value of independent advocacy support in particular o older cancer patients and their carer’s.

Advocacy cancer support services can help by working to help patients avoid loneliness, they can ultimately make a positive impact on older people’s mental and physical health – and reduce the need for primary health care services.

A full copy of the report from Macmillan can be found here http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Documents/AboutUs/Newsroom/Isolated_cancer_patients_media_report.pdf


Author: kathparson

Chief Executive of Older People's Advocacy Alliance (UK)

5 thoughts on “Facing the fight alone: Cancer, isolation and loneliness

  1. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your website. It’s a very easy
    on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and
    visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create
    your theme? Great work!


  2. It is so sad to think of people lacking support while they are dealing with their cancer. Isolation at times of stress can be very difficult psychologically. I found this article on how to deal with isolation and loneliness to be helpful http://www.psychalive.org/2009/06/isolation-and-loneliness/ I am glad advocacy cancer support services are available to help.


    • Thanks for getting in touch Emma. As you say, isolation is bad at any time but in times of stress like being affected by cancer, it can really weigh you down. That’s what advocacy is about, supporting and ensuring the person knows they’re not alone. Kind Regards, Marie


  3. I have been reading on this very important subject and came across a great article with so many applications for so many age groups:
    They also reference a hotline for anyone who needs help.


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