Time to Talk- About Cancer

8th February 2019 Clinical Negligence

This week two national initiatives took place.

The 7th February 2019 marked this year’s ‘Time to Talk Day’, a national initiative designed to encourage people to talk about mental health.

The 4th February 2019 marked this year’s ‘World Cancer Day’, a day designed to unite the world in the fight against cancer.

Symptoms of cancer, stories of new research telling us what causes cancer, super-foods which prevent cancers and of course stories of both devastation and survival are sadly never far from news headlines and our daily lives. What appears to be less frequently discussed is the mental health implications for those that are affected by cancer. With both mental health and cancer awareness initiatives falling within the same week, it seems timely to discuss them together.

Somewhat understandably, the physical illness, its causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment of cancer are what we hear about most frequently. The reality is, however, that sometimes the mental illness caused by a diagnosis of cancer may last significantly longer than the illness itself and can affect families as well as patients.

The specialist medical negligence team at JMW have dealt with numerous cases of cancer diagnoses and have seen the devastating impact it has on our client’s lives, including on their mental health. In fact, one in three people with cancer will experience a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorders, before, during or after treatment.

Despite the frequency at which cancer patients experience mental health problems, the Mental Health Foundation has highlighted in their recent study that the mental health problems that arise as a result of cancer are often side-lined. In particular they noted that of the people they interview, 66% said that they were not informed at all about potential mental health problems that could arise.

Breast Cancer Care has recently highlighted that over 8 in 10 women with breast cancer in England are not told about the possibility of developing long-term anxiety and depression by healthcare professionals. They pointed to the real risk of cancer survivors developing anxiety surrounding their body and continuing to live in real fear of there being something wrong with them.

Despite positive steps being taken, it appears that the link between cancer and mental health problems has received limited attention. Given the growing understanding and discussions surrounding mental health illnesses in recent years, it is perhaps time to appreciate that ‘cancer is not just a physical illness, it can have a profound psychological impact (Lee Knifton, Head of Mental Health Foundation Scotland). Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind similar echoed, ‘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’.

The clinical negligence department at JMW are experienced in handling cases of late diagnosis of cancer. If you would like to talk to one of the members of the team about your own experience, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Naomi O'Rourke is a Trainee Solicitorlocated in Manchesterin our Trainee Solicitors department

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