Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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Today! Live discussion on the financial cost of cancer

Join today’s live Guardian discussion on the financial cost of cancer.


Today from 12 Noon until 2 pm the Guardian are hosting a live online discussion with a panel of experts in the field and cancer survivors to discuss how patients can manage with what is sometimes a reduced income and higher expenses.

Cancer leaves in its wake not only a host of physical side-effects, but also potentially crippling financial costs.

Four in five cancer patients are hit with an average cost of £570 a month as a result of their illness, according to research by Macmillan Cancer Support.

Why is cancer so expensive? People living with cancer often have reduced earnings and need to find money to cover extra costs such as hospital travel costs and increased fuel bills, amid a gloomy economic climate.

One in three lose on average £860 a month in earnings because they are unable to work or have cut down their hours. Six in seven cancer patients see monthly expenses shoot up by £270 on average.

The financial burden of cancer is not the same for everyone. Those in work, and those with children, are more likely to bear the cost of their illness. The impact for those on low incomes is twice that for those on the highest incomes. And those with a rarer cancer are hit with a bill twice the size as that of someone with colorectal or prostate cancer.

How can employers help? What benefits are available? How can patients deal with the financial cost of cancer?

The panel so far …

Jo Salter, researcher, Demos
Neil Shadbolt, customer diversity manager, HSBC
Sarah Preston, welfare rights adviser, Macmillan Cancer Support
Richard Exell, senior labour market expert, TUC
Neal Southwick, financial support programme lead, Macmillan Cancer Support
Paul Elkins was diagnosed with stage 3 Lymphoma in November 2010. He lost his job, had issues with benefits and incurred direct and indirect costs as a result of his diagnosis
Cynthia Allan was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2008. She has been unable to return to work after experiencing extreme fatigue and she struggles to pay her bills
Linda Isted, communications manager, Debt Advice Foundation


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Patients deemed too old for treatment

Great news: “Tens of thousands of pensioners diagnosed with cancer have survived for at least a decade.” Bad news: “some patients are being deemed as too old for treatment and are not assessed on their overall fitness.”

A recent article in the Guardian points to research from Macmillan Cancer Support and the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) which found that more than 130,000 people in the UK have survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 65 or above. That number included more than 8,000 patients who were diagnosed at the age of 80 and over. But despite the large number of older people who are “long-term” survivors of the disease, Macmillan said many patients in the UK are being denied treatment because they are deemed to be too old. It said that cancer survival rates in this age group are “poor”.

Macmillan pointed out that survival rates in the UK compared badly with those on the continent and warned of what it saw as a worrying trend in the way people are treated.

For many common cancers – including prostate, breast, lung, stomach, ovarian and kidney cancers – the UK and Ireland have a lower five-year survival rate than the rest of Europe.

Age discrimination is something we’re constantly battling against but generally it’s an inconvenience and we’ve got time to do something about it. Being diagnosed with cancer isn’t always the death sentence we think it is but for some older cancer patients it seems it may be since they’re being denied the possibility of curative treatments.

This has to stop NOW!

Our cancer advocacy project, in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, is working hard to support older people affected by cancer. Our trained advocates are helping ensure that older people can get past any barriers which prevent access to helpful and life-prolonging treatments.

Health professionals must be supported to realise we’re all different regardless of our age. We all have different physical attributes and different attitudes to life and death. Our age doesn’t suddenly make us homogeneous; we continue to be different throughout our lives and we should be treated as the individuals we are.

Marie McWilliams