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Cured - but at what cost? Long-term consequences of cancer and its treatment

The impact of having cancer does not always end when treatment finishes.

At least 500,000 people in the UK are facing poor health or disability after treatment for cancer 1 – approximately one in four (25%) of those who have been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

The long-term consequences of cancer and its treatment include both physical and mental effects, such as chronic fatigue, sexual difficulties, mental health problems, pain, urinary and gastrointestinal problems, and lymphoedema (persistent tissue swelling caused by fluid retention).

Many of these problems can persist for at least 10 years after treatment 2 and can be significantly worse than those experienced bypeople without cancer.

Certain treatments for cancer also increase the risk of other serious long-term conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis or a second cancer

The impact of cancer and its treatment affects much more than just health and wellbeing. The wider implications include social isolation, financial worries caused by disruption to work, and the potential impact on education and future prospects for those who are treated for cancer as children or young adults.

Some consequences of cancer and its treatment can be reduced with simple interventions, while more complex issues will require specialist services.

Ways to improve the lives of those affected by the consequences of cancer and its treatment include the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative (NCSI) Recovery Package, specialist late-effects services and helplines, physical activity programmes, improved patient information, public toilet access schemes, and improved data collection, coding and research.

Patients should recognise that they are not alone if they are experiencing long-term effects following treatment, and speak to their healthcare team for advice and support.