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Suffolk: Charity warns of ‘loneliness epidemic’ amid fears cancer rate is set to double in 20 years

09:55 22 February 2014

Eileen Butler talks about loneliness problems while fighting cancer. Eileen is pictured at her home in Long Melford.

Eileen Butler talks about loneliness problems while fighting cancer. Eileen is pictured at her home in Long Melford.

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A charity is warning of a looming loneliness epidemic with the number of people diagnosed with cancer set to double in the next 20 years.

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Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that more than one in five people living with cancer in Suffolk - around 6,000 people - are suffering with loneliness as a result of their cancer battle.

And according to the organisation, the isolations renders many housebound and unable to feed themselves properly.

New research by Ipsos MORI has, for the first time, revealed the detrimental impact of being lonely on the lives of cancer patients.

It compares the experiences of cancer patients who say they feel lonely since their diagnosis with those who are not.

Eileen Butler, from Sudbury, was diagnosed with cancer five years ago.

“For the first three years of my treatment I felt very isolated,” she said. “I struggled to get out of the house much due to my health problems and didn’t have anybody to speak to who I felt would fully understand what I was experiencing.

“I have gradually found a number of ways to deal with this. I have accessed counselling support and made contact with my local hospice to find out more about services that are available to me.

“I now regularly attend a knit and natter social group at the hospice where we create headwear for chemotherapy patients.

“This is a fantastic way of meeting other people in a similar situation while enjoying a therapeutic hobby and doing something to help other people.”

The research showed that lonely cancer patients in Suffolk are three times more likely to drink more alcohol than usual, around 4,000 people are likely to have not left the house in days and an estimated 4,600 people experienced sleep problems.

Around 2,300 people are likely to skip meals while 2,700 had a poor diet with the reasons for not eating properly including lack of appetite, having no food in the house and being too weak to cook.

Ciarán Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the problem is only going to get worse with the number of cancer diagnoses set to double from two to four million in the next 20 years.

He added: “Loneliness is blighting the lives of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients in the UK. It’s hard enough for people being hit with the devastating news that they have cancer, without having to suffer the additional effects that being lonely brings.

“It’s heartbreaking to think of people struggling to eat or leave the house because they have been abandoned and left to deal with cancer alone.”

Macmillan provides a range of services, including a support line and an online community, to people affected by cancer.

But Mr Devane added: “We also urgently need the NHS, policy makers and local authorities to wake up to this looming loneliness epidemic and work with us to provide these vital services to ensure no-one faces cancer alone.”

Jack Neill-Hall, campaigns manager for the Campaign to End Loneliness, said it is vital to understand the link between loneliness and ill health in order to “break the negative cycle of loneliness exacerbating ill-health and vice versa”.

He added: “By ensuring that our public health and care services are aware of the risks of loneliness, we can do more for people who may be suffering from cancer, disability, or duel sensory loss and make sure they well looked after, but also better able look after themselves.”

Visit www.macmillan.org.uk or call Macmillan on 0808 808 00 00 for support.

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