Almost half of cancer survivors in Northern Ireland suffer from physical and mental health problems years after their treatment has finished, new research has found.
A report by Macmillan Cancer Support and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) has found cancer survivors and their carers are more likely to access health services than the general population — even years after completing treatment.
With the number of people living with cancer set to double by 2030, Macmillan said the report provides further evidence that action must be taken now to transform how health care is delivered.
Macmillan’s general manager in Northern Ireland, Heather Monteverde, said: “There are currently 55,000 people living with cancer and that is expected to rise to above 100,000.
“Some people find it hard to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis and that can affect them for many years to come and there are others who are affected by the treatment itself.
“Men with prostate cancer can go on to develop osteoporosis, while women with breast cancer are at risk of heart disease.
“We find people with pelvic radiotherapy can experience bowel problems.”
Newtownards’ woman Janine McCann (62) was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus in 2004.
She went through several months of radiotherapy which left her with bowel and bladder problems.
She said: “I do have lots of problems because of my treatment that still affect my life and caused me to give up work — problems I never even considered I would have.
“When I first became ill the staff at A&E didn’t link my severe diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain to the cancer treatment. It wasn’t until I went in for a routine cancer check up that I found out what was wrong.
”I ended up an A&E a few weeks ago because I couldn’t stop being sick and had stomach cramps.
“It’s important people know about the toll cancer and cancer treatment can have on your body years after the cancer has gone so they know how to get help.”
\[Claire McAuley\]Ms Monteverde continued: “In Janine’s case, neither she nor her GP put her bowel problems down to her cancer treatment, so I think we need to be looking at educating cancer patients and doctors.
“We need to encourage patients to follow healthy lifestyles to reduce their risk of developing problems later on and we need to tell them where to access the right help quickly if they need it.”
Ms Monteverde said the research also uncovered a toll on carers.
“This was quite a surprise but it shows they also need support and encouragement to look after their own health,” she added.factfile
The Macmillan Cancer Support and Queen’s University Belfast report found cancer survivors scored lower in areas including physical function, physical limitations, mental health and social functioning, while a quarter of cancer survivors said they believed there was a need for better co-ordinated care. The report found that 25% of carers spend more than 22 hours per week providing care, often years after treatment has finished.