Who Is Caring for Cancer Carers?

26/01/2012 23:22 GMT | Updated 27/03/2012 10:12 BST

Everyone rightly sympathises with those diagnosed with cancer. With the numbers of us being diagnosed with cancer having risen from one in three to over four in 10, it's a subject that hits very close to home.

Few of us will not have cancer in our home at some point. Fortunately, and encouragingly, many cancer patients find themselves surrounded by an instant support network. Doctors and nurses are on hand for medical advice, benefits advisers are there to fill in the correct forms, neighbours you haven't seen for months pop in with offers of "let me know what I can do". And quite rightly so. Cancer is one of the toughest things people will go through and getting the best support is vital.

The people who aren't given quite as much thought and attention are the family and friends of cancer patients. These are the people who find themselves administering medicine, cooking and cleaning for their loved one when they're feeling unwell after their chemotherapy, being a shoulder to cry on when the pressure becomes too much. Often combined with a full-time job, a family to look after and dealing with their own feelings about a loved one going through such an ordeal, it is all extremely stressful. Overnight their lives have changed as much as the cancer patients.

Today, Macmillan Cancer Support launches new research which reveals for the first time the number and profile of people caring for others with cancer. And the results are concerning.

Almost none (just 5%) of the 1.1 million carers have ever received a local authority's carer's assessment, which could unlock some desperately needed practical, emotional and financial help. Half received no formal or informal support whatsoever. The worrying question is what is the impact?

This lack of support is taking its toll. Nearly half of carers suffer with stress, anxiety or depression. One in eight admits to having sleeping and digestion problems. And the effects don't stop there - one in seven report financial issues such as the costs of travelling to hospital and additional heating bills. Some have to give up work completely.

Carers don't complain - they feel guilty about slight ailments when their relative or friend is going through something so serious and they don't want to take the attention away from that. Even when their health problems become more serious, they still don't put themselves first.

That's why Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on the statutory sector to increase awareness and take up of carer's assessments. Health and social care professionals can help by signposting carers to them.

Everyone affected by cancer deserves the right support and that includes cancer carers. It is a small simple step which can have such a good and lasting impact on carers. These people who selflessly give of themselves for the benefit of others shouldn't be forgotten any longer.