23 September 2018

Charities unite to raise awareness of devastating impact of disease on mental health

With new findings revealing over 8 in ten (84%) women with breast cancer in England are not told about the possibility of developing long-term anxiety and depression by healthcare professionals, Breast Cancer Care and Mind unite today to make mental health after breast cancer a priority.1

Both charities are calling for everyone with breast cancer to be told about the potential long-term emotional impact, and offered mental health support for when they need it.

A landmark survey of nearly 3,000 women with breast cancer in England, carried out on behalf of Breast Cancer Care, reveals that a third (33%) experience anxiety for the first time in their lives after their diagnosis and treatment. Shockingly, almost half (45%) experience continuous fear that the cancer may return, which can severely impact day-to-day life.23

The survey also found 8% of women with breast cancer have a panic attack for the first time as a result of their breast cancer diagnosis or treatment.4

The charities warn that as the routine of hospital appointments suddenly ends, women with breast cancer can often feel alone, without adequate support and unsure where to find help.

Lauren Faye, 28 from Bristol, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2016 and had a lumpectomy and radiotherapy. She has since struggled with social isolation and anxiety. She says:

“My last hospital appointment felt like a huge anti-climax. I’d been so caught up in the whirlwind of treatment, I didn’t anticipate how hard moving forward would be. I felt isolated from my friends as I had no energy to go out with them, and I had to watch from the sidelines as they all got on with their careers, relationships and lives.

“But the biggest barrier to adapting to life after breast cancer was my anxiety. I completely stopped trusting my body and lived in fear of there being something wrong with me. To this day, there’s always a worry festering in the back of my mind about the cancer coming back.

“At the end of treatment, the impact of breast cancer on my mental health wasn’t even mentioned by my healthcare team, nor was I referred to support, let alone given any. It wasn’t until I called Breast Cancer Care’s Helpline that my emotions were finally acknowledged and I realised my feelings were normal.”   

This survey also found a fifth (19%) of women with breast cancer experience social isolation after their hospital treatment ends, with three quarters (75%) more socially isolated than they were at diagnosis.56

More than one in ten (13%) of women with breast cancer leave the house less after finishing hospital treatment due to emotional and physical long-term side effects.7 Of these, over a third say it’s because they feel too anxious (35%) or do not want to speak to other people (34%), and over a quarter (26%) are too self-conscious about changes to their appearance.8, 910

Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care, says:

“These upsetting figures highlight the stark reality of life after breast cancer and why we are taking a stand with Mind to make support for people’s mental health a priority. Damaged body image, anxieties about the cancer returning and debilitating long-term side effects can disrupt identities and shatter confidence, leaving people feeling incredibly lonely, and at odds with friends, family and the outside world.

“We know people expect to feel better when they finish treatment and can be utterly devastated and demoralised to find it the hardest part.11 And though the NHS is severely overstretched, it’s crucial people have a conversation about their mental health at the end of treatment so they can get the support they need, at the right time.”

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, says:

“Our physical and mental health are closely linked, yet too often, mental and physical health problems are treated separately. It’s really important that anyone receiving treatment for a physical health problem has attention paid to their mental health and overall wellbeing.

“It’s understandable that being diagnosed with or treated for something as serious as breast cancer will impact someone’s mental wellbeing, even if they have never experienced a mental health problem before.

“Health professionals should treat each person as a whole and, if treating someone for their physical health, also offer ongoing support for their mental health. If nothing else, starting the conversation means that the person is more likely to recognise the impact their condition may have on their wellbeing and feel able to seek support if they need it. We need to see longer term support for those who are either receiving or coming to the end of their cancer treatment.” 

Breast Cancer Care and Mind are calling for everyone with breast cancer to be told about the potential long-term emotional impact, and offered mental health support for when they need it. Join the conversation here.    

-ENDS-

For further information, please contact:

Georgia Tilley, Press Officer, Breast Cancer Care

020 3105 3360 (out of hours 07702 901 334)

georgia.tilley@breastcancercare.org.uk 

Notes to editors

Breast Cancer Care’s Care After Breast Cancer campaign is calling for the NHS to tackle the lack of specialised end-of-treatment care in the health system.

For any reference to the Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health:

Fieldwork was undertaken between 5 March and 18 June 2018. The sample is of 2,862 women in England with primary breast cancer, with no additional diagnoses who have finished hospital treatment. All percentages calculated by Quality Health, rounded to the nearest whole number and figures were calculated to exclude responses where the question was not applicable to the respondent’s circumstances, i.e. ‘missing’, ‘n/a’ or ‘don’t know’. Total sample size for individual questions may vary due to people answering specific questions according to their personal experience.

1 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 1,923 women answered no.

2 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 933 women.

3 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 1,284 women

4 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 228 women.

5 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 517 women.

6 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 384 women answered yes.

7 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 370 women.

8 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 131 women.

9 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 126 women.

10 Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey by Quality Health. 97 women.

11 Breast Cancer Care survey, more than a quarter (26%) of women diagnosed with breast cancer say their hospital treatment ending was the hardest part. Fieldwork was undertaken online between 13 April and 31 May 2017. Total sample size: 804 women, all of whom have had a primary diagnosis of breast cancer.

About Breast Cancer Care

Breast Cancer Care is the only specialist UK wide charity providing support for women, men, family and friends affected by breast cancer. We’ve been caring for them, supporting them, and campaigning on their behalf since 1973.

Today, we continue to offer a unique range of support including reliable information, one-to-one support over the phone and online from nurses and people who’ve been there. We also offer local group support across the UK.

From the moment someone notices something isn’t right, through to their treatment and beyond, we’re there to help people affected by breast cancer feel more in control. www.breastcancercare.org.uk

About Mind

  • We’re Mind, the mental health charity. We provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. We campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. We won't give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets both support and respect. mind.org.uk
  • Please note that Mind is not an acronym and should be set in title case.
  • Mind has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am - 6pm, Monday – Friday)
  • Contact Mind’s Media Team for interviews or further information on 0208 522 1743. For out of hours support, call 07850 788 514 or email media@mind.org.uk.
  • To access to a range of free images to accompany mental health news stories, visit: time-to-change.org.uk/getthepicture. These images have been developed by Time to Change, a campaign to change how we all think and act about mental health problems. Time to Change is led by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and funded by the Department of Health, Comic Relief and the Big Lottery Fund.