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Ben Hearnden
Ben Hearnden, Macmillan Prostate Cancer Clinic Nurse Specialist at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust

Shame and social stigma ‘putting cancer patients at risk’

East Kent Hospitals staff have been featured in a national campaign to help raise awareness of the life-changing side effects that are considered taboo by people in the region, that if left might potentially put their health and recovery at risk.

Macmillan Cancer Support says thousands of people with cancer in the South East are facing side effects including anxiety or depression, sex and relationship issues and bowel and bladder problems. However, a poll for Macmillan by YouGov has revealed that these, and many other common side effects of cancer, are often seen by the general public in the South East as taboo.

Ben Hearnden, Macmillan Prostate Cancer Clinic Nurse Specialist at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It’s really sad that despite dealing with a serious illness, people are too embarrassed to ask for help with the associated physical and financial problems as well as their mental wellbeing.

“Patients that I work with can often experience problems with incontinence, erectile dysfunction and relationships. I find these are some of the topics that people feel most embarrassed to broach, but not addressing these issues can have a huge impact on physical and emotional health, and in some instances, even treatment outcomes.

“We all have a responsibility to talk honestly about how cancer affects people. Unless we, as a society, get over our embarrassment, people with cancer will continue to struggle alone with serious issues when help is often just one conversation or phone call away.”

The poll also revealed that among those living with cancer in the UK, one in five (20%) - around 500,000 people - found it difficult to seek help with problems resulting from the illness because they felt embarrassed or ashamed. 

Kim peate
Kim Peate, Macmillan Skin Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust

Around a quarter (26%) of people with cancer say they have been reluctant to talk about issues relating to the disease because of how other people might react.

Kim Peate, Macmillan Skin Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, added: “One of the biggest parts of my job is to offer support and guidance for people living with cancer. It is not just about coping physically but mentally as well. I work with people concerned about scarring and body image but a cancer diagnosis will always affect your mental health.

“Many people do not want to open up to their family, they are concerned it will worry them, but I build up trust with my patients and they will often talk to me as their nurse when they won’t talk to anyone else.

Kim sees first-hand how people are affected not only by how they feel but also by being scared or embarrassed to talk about how they are feeling. “It’s almost like a ripple effect. The more people avoid talking about their concerns the larger these issues can become to someone. I would say to anyone, reach out, talk to someone, that is what we are here for, to support and help.”

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