Macmillan's cancer information

This blog will give you regular, high-quality information about cancer. We hope you find it useful. And if there's any topic you'd like us to blog about, just let us know.

Latest Entries
  • The Sound of Support – Have you heard about our audiobooks?

    Would you find listening to our cancer information easier than reading it? We want everyone affected by cancer to be able to access our information, so we produce a wide range of audiobooks to support you. Our audiobooks come in clearly designed and easy-to-read packaging (see below). And better still they contain the information that you might need!



    Why try audio?

    Listening to an audiobook could be helpful if:

    • You feel very tired (fatigued) and might find it difficult to look through a booklet
    • You have a learning disability that might make reading our information more tricky
    • You have a visual impairment
    • English isn’t your first language
    • You’d simply prefer to listen than read

    Our audiobooks are very easy to navigate. They’re split into chunks (called tracks) so you can skip between them and listen to the parts you need most. They also provide all of the information that you’d find in one of our booklets, so you won’t miss out. Many of our audiobooks contain quotes from real people affected by cancer, and some even include clips of them talking about their personal experiences. As well as all this, they offer a convenient way of finding out what you need to know. You can listen wherever and whenever it suits you, whether you’re cooking or sat in the car.

    What titles can you get as an audiobook?

    Over 60 of our booklets are now available in audio format, offering you information about different types of cancer, treatments and living with and after cancer. Among our collection, you’ll find titles such as:

     

    We also have information that is exclusive to audio, like our Relax and Breathe CD.


    And if you’d like informationabout a particular cancer topic or type that we don’t already produce as an audiobook, you can request it and we’ll have it made for you. Simply call us on 0808 808 00 00 and ask for the information you’d like, or email us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    We also have information available in other formats including large print, other languages and videos in British Sign Language


    We're with you every step of the way

    The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

    Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in – if you still can't see the comment box, click on this blog's title at the top).

    Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo


     

  • Breast reconstruction is not for everybody – women explore other options after a mastectomy

    Faced with the prospect of having a mastectomy, women often worry about the impact it will have on their appearance. Feeling this way is completely normal, and everyone has different ways of handling it.

    Reactions to losing a breast vary from woman to woman. Some women want to restore their breast shape and appearance through reconstruction, others prefer a breast prosthesis, and others prefer to leave their body as it is. Every woman is different.

    While lots of women choose to have breast reconstruction, some women have shown that this isn’t for them and are choosing other options instead.

    A small, but growing number of women are opting to have tattoos over or around their mastectomy scars.  Some of these women say their main reason was the chance to reclaim their bodies. The tattoo designs often have some symbolic or emotional meaning for the person as well. Other women say they feel reconstruction would be denying the effects – positive or negative – that breast cancer has had on them. There are lots of photographs of women with mastectomy tattoos on Pinterest, for example this board about mastectomy scar tattoos.

    There is also an increasing drive for acceptance of people being able to present themselves scars and all, if that’s what they want. A collaboration of Finnish fashion designers such as Elina Halttunen, a woman with only one breast herself, resulted in the Monokini 2.0 swimsuit range. These swimsuits are specifically designed for women who’ve had a mastectomy with the aim of showing that women are beautiful, whether they have two breasts or not.

    How people feel about their body after a mastectomy is a very personal thing. And while ways of dealing with it differ, all responses are equally valid. We want to hear how you feel about your experience. Whether you’ve gone for reconstruction, tattoos, scars, or simply haven’t decided yet, tell us what you think. Here at Macmillan, we think people should feel free to present themselves to the world exactly as they choose.

    If you’re still working out how you feel, or just want to find out more about this, our booklet Body image and cancer has more information on dealing with changed perceptions of yourself after cancer. You can order a free copy now:

    Front cover of Macmillan's booklet Body image and cancer

    We're with you every step of the way

    The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

    Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in – if you still can't see the comment box, click on this blog's title at the top).

    Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo

  • What is proton beam therapy?

    If you’ve heard about proton beam therapy in the news or elsewhere, you might be wondering what it actually is. We’ve all heard of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy as treatments for cancer. But what is proton beam therapy? How does it work? And what makes it different from conventional radiotherapy?

    About radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy is one of the main types of cancer treatment in the UK. Around 40% of people who’ve had their cancer cured have had radiotherapy as part of their treatment. The treatment works by using high-energy radiation (x-rays) to treat cancer cells. Using a machine, the rays are aimed at the tumour. This damages the cancer cells, stopping them from dividing and destroying them. Although the rays are focussed on the tumour, they can also damage surrounding healthy tissue. This is what causes the side effects of radiotherapy. Unlike cancer cells, healthy cells can usually repair themselves so the damage to normal tissue is mainly temporary. Over the years, techniques and equipment have improved and it’s now possible to shape and aim radiotherapy more precisely. The idea is to deliver the highest possible dose to the tumour while doing as little harm as possible to surrounding healthy tissue.

    About proton beam therapy

    Proton beam therapy is similar to radiotherapy, except it uses beams of protons rather than x-rays. The difference is that while x-rays release radiation during the course of their travels through the body, protons release almost all of their radiation at the spot they are aimed at. The beams also stop once they hit their target, rather than carrying on through the body to an exit, as happens with conventional radiotherapy. This means they cause less damage to healthy tissue.

    When is proton beam therapy used?

    The main advantage of proton beam therapy is that it can be very precisely aimed at a single tumour while causing less damage to surrounding healthy tissue. For this reason, it is used to treat cancers that are in one place (have not spread) and that are located in places where damaging surrounding tissue would be especially harmful. This includes some cancers affecting the back of the eye, the base of the skull or the spine. It’s also sometimes used to treat children with certain types of brain tumour, because damaging brain tissue in a child who is still developing can cause harmful long-term effects.

    However, while proton beam therapy seems to cause fewer side effects than conventional radiotherapy, it’s not suitable for everyone and it’s also not currently easily accessible. In addition, because it’s only been used in a small number of cases and for specific types of cancer, it’s hard to know how effective it would be for most cancer patients.

    Where is proton beam therapy given? 

    At the moment there is one proton therapy centre in the UK, in Merseyside. The equipment they have can be used to treat rare types of eye cancer.

    For other types of tumour, treatment is only available abroad. For patients in the UK, the NHS will fund this treatment if it is agreed that proton beam therapy is expected to be more beneficial than conventional radiotherapy. Currently, only about 1% of cases are judged to need proton beam therapy over conventional radiotherapy.

    The future of proton beam therapy and radiotherapy

    In the coming years, doctors will learn more about proton beam therapy, who it could benefit and the best way to use it. Access to the treatment in the UK will also be improved, with two proton beam therapy centres scheduled to open in 2018 in London and Manchester.

    Alongside this, conventional radiotherapy continues to save thousands of lives across the board, and through research and trials it will continue to be improved to reduce side effects. Research is always underway to find new ways of making radiotherapy as effective as possible for individuals, and this has resulted in many different techniques for delivering radiotherapy.

    For more information about cancer and cancer treatments, you can visit macmillan.org.uk/cancerinformation or call our support line on 0808 808 00 00.

    Sources

    * Cancer Research UK. Our research into radiotherapy. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/science/research/who-and-what-we-fund/topic/radiotherapy/
    (accessed 11 September 2014).

    We're with you every step of the way

    The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

    Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in – if you still can't see the comment box, click on this blog's title at the top).

    Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo

  • My life after cancer treatment

    My name is Aurélie. I’m an editor in the Cancer Information Development team and I’ve been in remission for two years. This is an aspect of my personal experience and a topic which I feel should receive greater attention.

    If you’ve had cancer and have been through treatment, you’ll know something that many around you rarely do. When cancer is over, it’s not over. It does not stop at the gate of the hospital after that appointment when you heard the word ‘remission’. It’s not as simple as that sigh of relief people give once you’ve told them you show no sign of cancer anymore. Because cancer and its treatment are like the tip of an iceberg. They are what everybody sees and knows about. The rest is hidden, deeper and unknown.

    I was 30 when I was diagnosed with cancer and whilst the treatment was difficult and tiring at times, I knew that would be the case, I was expecting it. What I did not know is that the aftermath of cancer would prove so challenging and, at times, extremely distressing.

    There is generally little awareness about the long-term consequences of cancer. When I finished treatment, everybody was relieved and people told me how happy they were I could now move on with my life. But could I? Coming out to the other side of cancer does not mean getting your old life back or resuming life where you’d left it. It can be a lot more difficult than that. Some things may be a little bit different, others may have been radically altered.

    Cancer treatment caused side effects that have changed my life forever. Having radiotherapy to the pelvic area means that I will never be able to conceive a child. The consequence of treatment on fertility is not a light issue. It is permanent, life-changing and a reminder that even if the cancer itself belongs to the past, its effects live on.

    And this is exactly what can be so difficult to accept. Especially since people around you may not realise it. They may not know how much the long-term side effects of treatment can affect you, even years later.

    The consequences of cancer treatment cover an extremely wide range of side effects. You may have issues with your body image, you may have to live with a stoma, you may have lymphoedema, or suffer from fatigue for example.

    Cancer also affects work. I had to give up my job during treatment which made me less competitive on the job market. Sometimes you may even not be able to return to your occupation. Being affected in your professional capacities can be extremely hard to come to terms with. It can feel exhausting and unfair to have to cope with all those problems when you’ve already come through a very difficult time in your life.

     It sometimes feels that I’ve received a double sentence – the illness and whatever long-term side effect I am trying to deal with.

    Macmillan has a range of free booklets that contain information about those various long-term side effects of cancer. These include Cancer and fertility, Understanding lymphoedema, Sexuality and cancer, Work and cancer, Coping with fatigue. You can order them online or call our support line 0808 808 00 00.

    Although evidence shows that thousands of people suffer from the consequences of treatment, the phenomenon is rarely mentioned. This is also because people may feel guilty to complain about the aftermath of cancer. They believe the only emotion they should feel is gratitude to be cancer free.

    It’s not rare to really struggle with the long-term side effects of cancer, the immersed face of the iceberg. Macmillan has done some research into this and published a report entitled Cured ... but at What Cost? [PDF] in order to raise awareness about the consequences of treatment.  If you’re suffering from the long-term side effects of cancer, it’s important to realise that you are not alone and that help is available.

    We're with you every step of the way

    The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat.
    Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

    Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in – if you still can't see the comment box, click on this blog's title at the top).

    Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo

  • Worrying about cancer coming back

    You’ve completed your cancer treatment and are ready to move on with your life and put cancer behind you, but you can’t. Perhaps you feel lost without regular contact with doctors and nurses. Perhaps you feel worried that you’re no longer acting against the cancer. And then there’s the constant worry that the cancer will come back. Suddenly every ache or pain is a threat.

    Worrying about cancer coming back is completely natural. Most people who have been through cancer treatment live with some worry and uncertainty, and this doesn’t mean they are not coping with life after treatment. However, while some people are able to move on with their life with acceptance of some uncertainty, others live in constant fear of the cancer returning. If this is you, you might find our booklet Worrying about cancer coming back useful – order it now for free.

    After having just undergone perhaps the most straining and emotional period of your life, it is very difficult to return back to ‘normal’ and let go of any anxiety you may have. But  learning to manage your feelings is perhaps the most important step to a full recovery from cancer. Many people find the uncertainty of cancer difficult to manage, so it might be a good idea to try and focus on what you can change and control yourself. Below are five ways you can do that.

    1. Identify your triggers and find ways to cope with them

    Certain situations may trigger your worry about cancer coming back. This could be hearing a song that was popular when you were undergoing therapy, approaching a follow-up appointment, or hearing of someone else being diagnosed with the same cancer. Once you know what your triggers are, try to plan how you can handle them. For example, think of ways you can distract yourself while waiting for a follow-up appointment. Also, remember that no two cancers are alike, even if they are the same type, so comparing yourself with others who’ve been diagnosed is not usually helpful.

    2. Talk about your feelings and get support

    The saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ often rings true for many. Talking through your worries helps you to understand them and puts them in perspective. It can also stop you going over things repeatedly to yourself.

    Some people might want to put on a brave face to protect those close to them. But this means your friends and relatives will not know what you are really thinking, which can make you feel more alone. Try to open up to someone you trust and feel comfortable with. If you find it difficult to talk to those close to you, consider joining a support group, using Macmillan’s online community, or visiting your GP for a counselling referral. You can also call Macmillan on 0808 808 00 00 to speak to our cancer support specialists.

    3. Become more involved in your own care

    Some people find it very reassuring to have an active role in their healthcare. This can include finding out more about:

    • your follow-up plan
    • symptoms to look out for
    • who to contact
    • what you can do to improve your well-being.


    It’s very important that you know which symptoms to look out for, and that you attend any check-ups or tests. You’ll probably feel nervous about these visits, but if your cancer does come back, finding it early can make it easier to treat.

    4. Focus on your well-being

    Many people want to make positive life changes after cancer treatment. This can give you back a sense of control. We have booklets about Giving up smoking, Physical activity and cancer treatment, Managing your weight after cancer treatment, Healthy eating and cancer and Cancer and complementary therapies.

    Some people find creative activities such as writing, painting and singing are therapeutic. They can help you express and work through your emotions.

    5. Know when you need help with overwhelming feelings and where to get it

    Many people who recover from cancer find that life after treatment can be lonely. The doctors, nurses, family and friends who surrounded you before are not around as much and you may find it difficult to reach out. Worrying about cancer coming back may also cause you to avoid social situations and eventually lead to depression.

    Recognising your own depression is difficult. If you or someone else believes you should seek help, there are organisations that can help:

    The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) can point you to qualified counsellors. It has a database on its website where you can search for a counsellor near you.

    Maggie’s Centres provide information about cancer as well as emotional and  psychological support.

    We hope this blog has helped you and given some useful information. Remember, you can call Macmillan 0808 808 00 00 – there are nurses who can answer any questions about your cancer or treatment, and support specialists who can lend an ear and let you talk through your worries.

    Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in – if you still can't see the comment box, click on this blog's title at the top).

    Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo

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