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Cancer accounts for 29% of long-term sickness claims

The number of newly diagnosed breast cancer cases has risen by a fifth in a decade according to new analysis by Breast Cancer Care – yet there has been no rise in specialist breast cancer nurse posts.

The figures show that the numbers of newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer in England have risen by 18% from 38,153 in 2003 to 44,831 in 2013. Similarly in Wales and Scotland the rise of breast cancer cases is around 20%.

More women are diagnosed with breast cancer than any other cancer, and it is the most rapidly rising cancer in women after lung cancer. In the same timeframe, newly diagnosed bowel cancer cases increased by 15%, cervical cancer by 11% and ovarian cancer by 5%.

Yet despite this, the number of specialist breast cancer nurses has remained the same at 434 across England since records began in 2007. These nurses are essential in providing breast cancer patients with medical, practical and emotional support from diagnosis to recovery. According to the Cancer Patient Experience Survey, patients with access to a nurse specialist experience significantly better treatment and care.

The charity is warning that this widening gap between the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer and breast cancer nurses is increasing pressure on nurses’ workloads, which will impact negatively on quality of care – especially as the number of people living with breast cancer is set to more than double from 691,000 to 1.7 million by 2040.

The rise in breast cancer cases is largely due to the ageing population and lifestyle factors such as women drinking more and higher obesity levels. Though more people survive a breast cancer diagnosis, many face debilitating side-effects of the disease and its treatment. Not only is this difficult for the patient, it increases the workload of nurses further.

Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Care, says: “Breast cancer nurses do a fantastic job but they are under more and more pressure to provide the same quality of care with much less time, more responsibilities and many more patients.” Breast Cancer Care is calling on NHS England to adopt the Cancer Strategy Recommendations, and has launched a campaign to highlight the support it can provide for breast cancer patients.

“We welcome the Cancer Strategy recommendation that every cancer patient should have access to a specialist nurse, but the next step is how we make that a reality. We know NHS England’s budgets are tight, but as the number of breast cancer cases rises, action is needed to address this now. In the meantime Breast Cancer Care can provide anyone affected by breast cancer with expert support and information.”

Gordon Wishart, Professor of Cancer Surgery and Medical Director of Check4Cancer, commented: “While the incidence of breast cancer is rising, we are also getting better at treating it and better at detecting it early, when treatment is far more likely to be successful. As a result, the mortality rate for breast cancer has actually been falling since the 1980s, with 2012 figures showing a fall of 45% for women aged 50-64 since 1989. This shows we really can make headway against this disease, but if resources are lacking, there is a serious risk that this continuing success could falter – which will mean fewer lives being saved and less support for those that survive the disease. It’s essential that Cancer Strategy Recommendations are met if we are to continue to support the increasing number of patients diagnosed with breast cancer.”

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