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Colorectal cancer survivors struggle to lead normal lives after diagnosis

A report by the University of Leeds backed by Macmillan Cancer Support claims too many patients aren't being told what services are available and suffer social distress years after diagnosis

Survivors of colorectal cancer are still struggling to cope with daily life in the UK years after their diagnosis due to a lack of support and advice.

The University of Leeds led a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and partly funded by Macmillan Cancer Support (MCS) in which 7,000 people - one in six (15%) - in England who survive colorectal cancer between one and two years after diagnosis experience social distress.

The researchers speculate the cause could be either a combination of financial and work concerns; struggling with body image, isolation, or struggling to carry out chores or personal care tasks.

People living with three or more long-term illnesses in addition to a colorectal cancer diagnosis are especially at risk of feeling distressed.

They are almost seven times more likely to experience severe distress from their social interactions compared with those with no conditions other than cancer.

Lead researcher Penny Wright said: ‘Many people following a diagnosis and treatment for colorectal cancer are remarkably resilient.

‘However, for a significant minority, life is more difficult. Identifying and offering support to this group is a challenge which needs to be addressed.’

According to MCS, the risk of incontinence, diarrhoea, bleeding or having a stoma which can follow colorectal cancer treatment is made worse by the current lack of support for people who experience them.

The charity is urging the government to take urgent action to avoid massive costs in future.

MCS chief executive Lynda Thomas added: ‘Improvements in colorectal cancer drugs and treatment mean more people are surviving and living longer, yet these advancements also mean that cancer now has a huge impact on all aspects of people’s lives for many years.

‘But the NHS is stuck in the past and hasn’t adapted. There is a woeful lack of appropriate and tailored support available for the thousands of colorectal cancer survivors.

‘Too often the NHS neglects to look at the bigger picture of how that cancer diagnosis affects other areas of someone’s life, especially if they’re already living with other illnesses.

‘If the NHS doesn’t urgently catch up, it will not only fail growing numbers of people but it will have momentous cost implications for the NHS and the wider economy.’

NHS England has been approached for a response to the report.

Meanwhile the Welsh NHS, health and social services minister has announced today (Wednesday 30) that medicines to treat the cancer are being made routinely available in Wales.

Mark Drakeford revealed Cetuximab had received backing from the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG) to be used in combination with chemotherapy or FOLFOX (folinic acid, fluoroucil and oxaliplatin).

Its use had been restricted following a National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance in 2009 but growing evidence of its benefits has since emerged.

The full article Social Distress 12 to 36 Months After Colorectal Cancer can be read here

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