Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


Today is World Cancer Day

On World Cancer Day the World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning of a global tidal wave of cancer.

The World Cancer Report 2014 is now available to download and warns that we need to do more to prevent cancer happening in the first place.


The major sources of preventable cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Infections
  • Alcohol
  • Obesity and inactivity
  • Radiation, both from the sun and medical scans
  • Air pollution and other environmental factors
  • Delayed parenthood, having fewer children and not breastfeeding

For most countries, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. However, cervical cancer dominates in large parts of Africa.

There does appear to be a degree of ignorance around some of the underlying causes of some cancers: A survey of 2,046 people in the UK by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) suggested 49% do not know that diet increases the risk of developing cancer.

A third of people said cancer was mainly due to family history, but the charity said no more than 10% of cancers were down to inherited genes.

New treatments and earlier diagnosis will also be needed.

As cancer rates and the number of older people increase there will be an incremental rise in need and demand for our advocacy services. More older people affected by cancer will need to be trained as volunteer advocates to support their peers. We’ll keep working with our project partner Macmillan Cancer Support to continue to make a difference to the lives of the older people we support.

Marie McWilliams



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In what sense is our work preventative?

‘Prevention and Health and Social Care’ was the subject of a development session for the Bournemouth and Poole Health and Wellbeing Board which was facilitated by Viv Aird CEO of Bournemouth CVS and Christopher Beale CEO of  Poole CVS.   Dorset Cancer Advocacy was invited to describe and demonstrate what we do as an example of innovative voluntary sector service provision.

The Board first heard from Alex Massey, Senior Policy Officer of Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) who explained the key recommendations from the association’s recent Taskforce report The Prevention Revolution: Transforming health and social care.  The report calls for preventative support, advice and treatment to be ‘fully integrated into all stages of the care pathway with the aim of addressing the wider determinants of ill health’.  The report emphasises ‘the role played by voluntary organisations in providing preventative, holistic care in community settings; fostering innovation; strengthening patient engagement; and catalysing cultural change.’


Christopher Beale of Poole CVS and Alex Massey of ACEVO

I then illustrated how although our work cannot prevent cancer it is holistic and can help to mitigate many aspects of the impact of cancer.  Independent advocacy support ensures that the cancer patient is more than a mere passenger on their cancer journey, it puts them in the driving seat.  Giving voice, choice and control through peer volunteer advocacy means working with an advocacy partner to help them to make informed choices about treatment and care and then to look ahead and plan for the possible consequences of that treatment.  In doing so we improve wellbeing and help to build resilience which in turn supports a person’s ability to cope with unplanned transitions in life such as a cancer diagnosis.

Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Cancer Advocacy


Advocacy and social exclusion

Common sense tells us that poor health can lead to social exclusion and that increased social exclusion can in turn lead to poorer health and quality of life.  People working in the field of advocacy for older people know that timely intervention by an advocacy service can be preventative and break a vicious circle.   It’s not always easy to explain this in a concise way and I was heartened to read the proof in a report that coherently argues that social exclusion is not inevitable or irreversible with age.

‘Policy makers should encourage greater development of outreach provision to reach the hardest to reach before crises occur’ suggests a report from the International Longevity Centre and AgeUK:  Is Social Exclusion Still Important for Older People argues that ‘outreach programmes could encourage more targeted volunteering and advocacy to ensure those with fewer resources receive the services and support that they may need’.


Working in partnership to deliver the Dorset Cancer Advocacy service voluntary organisations Help and Care and Dorset Advocacy are well placed to reach the ‘hardest to reach’ with their established networks across the county and the service complements the range of other support services they offer.

Getting back to the report I found it useful in trying to understand the notion of social exclusion that ‘for older people the notion of social exclusion is grounded in the preservation of independence and autonomy.’   While I have been reading recently about the social determinants of health this report shows that, conversely, health (as well as demographic and socio-economic) characteristics are associated with older people’s levels of social exclusion.

‘Poor mental and physical health’ is ‘associated with higher levels of social exclusion…people whose self-rated health changed from good to bad/poor were five times more likely to become excluded from local amenities compared to people whose health remained very good’.  The amenities which the report demonstrates to be increasingly difficult for older people to access include local shopping facilities and hospitals.

I already knew that the work we are doing through peer advocacy support to help older people get the best out of their cancer treatment and care was important to those people both when having treatment and in coping with the after effects.  What I now understand more clearly is that our work can be instrumental in preventing a downwards spiral:  The poorer your health the more likely you are to become socially excluded, the more socially excluded you are the less likely you are to get the support you need.

In making the case for outreach and advocacy the authors state: ‘Our analyses highlight the precarious position occupied by those who are socially excluded in accessing the necessary services and support that they need.  Socially excluded people… are (i) those who are likley to be less engaged with civic structures and have access to information; (ii) are those who have difficulties in physically and economically accessing social, financial, cultural and civic structures and institutions: and (iii) are also likely to have lower levels of negotiation and fewer avenues of social support to help in accessing services and support.’

The financial case for reaching the hardest to reach is also made clear ‘Loneliness, cutting meals, and not receiving care to help with the activities of daily living are negative outcomes in themselves, but can also be viewed as precursors of much more serious, and costly events.’


Lung Cancer Awareness Month – November 2013

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.  Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide.  With the disease claiming more than 33,500 lives in the UK every year and a shockingly short six months average time between diagnosis and death it is crucial that awareness of this cancer is raised.

Organisations such as The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation strive to raise awareness of this disease.  Awareness leads to greater chance of early diagnosis.  The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chance is of swift lung cancer treatment and the ability to beat the cancer. So help your family and friends realise that smoking, passive smoking and exposure to certain chemicals are risk factors that should be eliminated or reduced.

Union jack

Keep Calm

Keep Calm

How can we do this?  Staying active is the main way!  Going to the gym, dancing, or doing a sport you enjoy will help strengthen your muscles. This will expand your lungs and ensure the blood that is pumped around the body is better able to provide the oxygen the body needs!

You should also stay away from smoking, keep your rooms well ventilated and get any persistent coughs that might arise checked with your doctor.

This is particularly relevant in Stoke on Trent as there is a higher incidence of lung cancer in the population compared to the national average.

Kath Curley

Project Co-ordinator Beth Johnson Foundation