29 December 2017

Charity warns of growing need for ongoing support as more people live longer with physical and emotional effects

Breast Cancer Care reveals people contacting its online nurses for help at the end of hospital treatment has increased by two thirds (66%) in just one year, raising fears that many are struggling to live well after breast cancer.1

A fifth of all enquiries to the charity’s nursing team – via its free Helpline and email service – are about the challenges of moving forward after a breast cancer diagnosis, with many people distressed life isn’t ‘back to normal’.2

While the number of people dying from breast cancer in England has dropped by 12% since 2001, with similar falls recorded in Scotland and Wales, diagnosis rates have increased by almost a third (28%), with 46,083 new cases in 2015.3

This means more people than ever are living longer with and beyond breast cancer, but not necessarily well. Adapting to life after breast cancer can include facing long-term side effects, such as pain and fatigue, depression and crippling fears the cancer will come back.

It is predicted that there will be 840,000 people alive in the UK after a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2020 and Breast Cancer Care want to reach more people with vital ongoing support.4

Mum of three Julia Woodrow, 50 from Kent, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2013 and had surgery and chemotherapy. She was diagnosed with depression after her treatment ended in 2014. She says:

“One of the worst points was after my treatment had finished. Initially I felt fantastic and was really positive about my future. However radiotherapy had weakened my chest and, as a result, I developed asthma. This, along with everything I’d already been through, led to my mental health deteriorating and just before Christmas, I was diagnosed with depression.

“It felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. My husband found it hard to be supportive at this point. He was great during treatment, but he didn’t know what to do to help me and I found it difficult to explain how I was feeling.

“I’ve had counselling to help me to work through some of my emotional issues and I’ve also turned to Breast Cancer Care for their expert support. The reality is four years on I’m still struggling. I have fatigue, aching joints and the drugs make it impossible to lose weight. I’m 50 but feel like an 80 year old.”

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

“While it is fantastic to see death rates continuing to drop, it is imperative to remember that life after breast cancer can be extremely difficult. Every day on our email support service and Helpline we hear from people struggling with this new, complex reality.

“Debilitating long term side effects, anxieties about the cancer returning and tattered body confidence are just some of the issues people are left with as they walk out of the hospital doors.

“Around 691,000 people are alive in the UK after a diagnosis of breast cancer, and the numbers are only set to rise.5 Right now, we can’t reach all of them when they need us, but with more funds, Breast Cancer Care can be there for more people with vital care, support and information.”

For free support and information call Breast Cancer Care on 0808 800 6000 or visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk. To donate and help someone through one of the most difficult challenges they’ll ever face visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk/donate or call 0345 0920 817.

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For further information, please contact:

Georgia Tilley, Press Officer: press@breastcancercare.org.uk, 07702 901 334

Notes to editors

1. Enquiries to Breast Cancer Care’s Ask our Nurses online service categorised as end of treatment stage and beyond, ongoing side effects or health impacts and adjusting and adapting to life beyond breast cancer rose from 198 (2015/16) to 329 (2016/17).

2. Breakdown of combined Helpline and AON enquiries for 16/17: Diagnosis and treatment 42.7%; Early detection and breast awareness 26.05%; Moving Forward 21.45%; Secondary breast cancer 4.1%; Families and partners 3.2%; Family history 1.8%; Younger women 0.7%.

3. All percentages calculated through an analysis of the latest England ONS cancer registration statistics from 2001 to 2015. Data includes men and women. There were 10,934 deaths from breast cancer in England in 2001 which fell by 11.96% to 9,626 in 2015. In 2001 36,035 people were diagnosed with breast cancer which increased by 27.8% to 46,083 in 2015.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/cancerregistrationstatisticsengland/2015/relateddata

According to the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit in Wales, breast cancer cases have risen by 29.6% from 2001 to 2015 and deaths have dropped 12.1%.

http://www.wcisu.wales.nhs.uk/dashboard-data

http://www.wcisu.wales.nhs.uk/cancer-mortality-in-wales  

According to ISD Scotland Cancer Statistics in Scotland, cases have risen by 30.8% and deaths have dropped 13%.

http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-topics/Cancer/Cancer-statistics/Breast/   

4. Maddams J et al (2012) Projections of cancer prevalence. British Journal of Cancer, 107 (7). 1195-1202

5. The Rich Picture with Cancer, Macmillan Cancer Support, 2014

All figures refer to invasive breast cancer (doesn’t include DCIS) and include both men and women.

Additional case study quote

Kim Shore, 35 from Barry, had been married for three months when she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in September 2016. She says:

 “During treatment I was so unwell physically that I couldn’t even begin to process my emotions. Sometimes I had the ‘fight’ and was feeling motivated to take on the cancer, other times I just felt numb. When it ended, I expected to feel euphoric. Instead, I remember looking around and wondering why my family and friends were more relived and happy than I was.”

“The reality is every cough, headache and pain causes the panic to set in. What if the cancer has come back? What if it’s spread? I now feel utterly exhausted - physically and emotionally – and I’ve lost the reassurance of regular appointments and scans.

“Cancer stole so much from me - my femininity, job, confidence and, worst of all, the prospect of ever having children. Breast Cancer Care was there for me and helped me realise I’m not alone – so many people feel like this at the end of treatment.”