Why 1.4m people are carers for cancer sufferers

The number of people caring for someone with cancer in the UK has risen to more than 1.4m, according to new charity estimates.

Macmillan Cancer Support said the number of cancer carers has risen by almost a third in recent years, with 1,416,000 carers in 2016 compared to just over a million in 2011.

Research among more than 6,000 people also found that family and friends are spending an average of 17.5 hours a week looking after someone with cancer - 2.5 hours more than in 2011.

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One in five carers spent more than 35 hours a week caring for someone with cancer.

The research also revealed that cancer carers range in age from 17 to people in their 80s, with 55 per cent of all carers saying they receive no external support.

Caring duties included giving medication, changing dressings, helping the person with cancer go to the toilet, and helping with eating.

By 2020, almost half of Britons will get cancer at some point in their lives.

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Fran Woodard, executive director of policy and impact at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “As the number of people being diagnosed with cancer continues to rise, we will see even more people having to care for their friends and family, so we urgently need to ensure the right support is in place for them.

“Many cancer carers have to do healthcare tasks they’re not trained to do, such as administering medicine, on top of practical tasks such as making trips to hospital and providing emotional support. This is often on top of working and looking after their children.

“At the same time, they are doing their best to remain positive and hold things together, often compromising their own health.

“One of the reasons carers don’t get support is because they don’t know it’s available. In fact, many don’t consider themselves to be carers because they’re acting out of kindness and love.”

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Helena Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “As our population continues to age, and more people are living longer with complex health conditions and disabilities, the amount of care families are providing and how long they are caring for is ever increasing.

“However, this is happening against a backdrop of cuts to social security and pressure on health and care services, which raises serious concerns about whether the services families need to help them care well - and have a life alongside caring - will be there in the future.

“Carers are doing more than ever to support others. We must ensure that they get the support and recognition they need and deserve.”

Gail Scott Spicer, chief executive of the Carers Trust, said: “The role of the carer is critical in the treatment and recovery of the cancer patient and carers can be expert care partners.

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“But caring is physically, emotionally and financially exhausting meaning support is critical to ensure one patient and not two.”

Meanwhile, women aged 50 to 70 are too reliant on mammograms to spot signs of breast cancer, a charity has warned.

Breast Cancer Care said it was vital women in this age group - who are most at risk of cancer - check their breasts between NHS screenings. Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of Breast Cancer Care, said: “It’s vital women know to keep checking their breasts, even if they’re attending regular mammograms, and that they can request screening appointments after the age of 70, as symptoms can occur at any time.”