At least one in four people living with cancer experience a variety of long-term health problems caused by their illness, a new report has revealed.
The study called Cured – but at what cost? looks at the consequences of cancer and its treatment and found that more than 500,000 survivors in the UK have an increased risk of other serious conditions.
Women living with or after breast cancer are almost twice as likely to get heart failure compared with those who have not had it, while men who have had prostate cancer are 2.5 times more likely to get osteoporosis compared with those who have not had it.
The Macmillan Cancer Support report also reveals that at least 200,000 survivors are estimated to be left with pain, often caused by nerve changes following surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Approximately one in five diagnosed with breast, colorectal or prostate cancer have moderate or extreme pain or discomfort up to five years after initial diagnosis.
Other cancer survivors face urinary and gastrointestinal problems which affect their quality of life.
More than one in three men diagnosed with prostate cancer up to five years previously reported urinary problems, while one in eight who had colorectal cancer surgery at least two years previously needed to wear a pad in case of incontinence.
Gordon Bell knows all about the issues people face after finishing cancer treatment.
Having experienced the illness, he now works for Macmillan Cancer Support service in Newcastle. The 50-year-old, from Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, was diagnosed with throat cancer in March 2012 when he went to see his GP after he discovered a lump on his neck.
Mr Bell, who was working in community care at the time for the NHS, was treated at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care in Newcastle, receiving 30 sessions of radiotherapy and six chemotherapy sessions.
He said: “After treatment, it’s like your body has been rebooted but not everything works again.
“You are expected to go back to a ‘normal’ way of life, but it’s almost like your battery isn’t fully charged. Fatigue can be absolutely crippling.
“I’ve also had difficulty with my saliva glands and taste buds. I don’t see food as a pleasure any more, it’s more a necessity, and I view all foods in terms of levels of difficulty to eat.”
Having finished treatment, Mr Bell gradually returned to work and is now doing well.
The report also looked at the other consequences of cancer and its treatment, such as chronic fatigue, mental health issues, sexual difficulties and lymphoedema.
Fay Scullion, general manager of Macmillan Cancer Support in Northern England, 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. No one should be left to face the long-term consequences of cancer alone.”
For those who need help following their diagnosis and treatment of cancer treatment, call 0808 808 0000 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk/survivorship