Two and a half million suffer in silence

  • Early half of the people in Britain with heart disease or cancer don’t discuss their condition with their family or friends after disclosing their initial diagnosis
  • Half of patients say that emotional support is just as important to them as their medical treatment
  • One third of their loved ones lack medical information and emotional support as well


New research reveals that life can be lonely for those suffering from heart disease or from cancer – two of the UK’s most prevalent serious medical conditions.

Families and friends are also affected as they try to come to terms with their loved ones' illness and give them their support, according to the survey by AXA PPP healthcare, which this January enhanced its support for members affected by these medical conditions.


Compared with 15% who find it a comfort to regularly talk things through with family and friends, 45% say they don’t discuss their condition again after telling them about the initial diagnosis – equating to around two and a half million people, 7% of sufferers cannot bring themselves to tell their loved ones straight away once diagnosed: 4% have someone else do the telling for them and 3% don’t tell them at all; 13% do not tell their friends. And one in ten say they never really understood the nature and implications of their condition. 

Whilst 50% of patients say that emotional support is just as important to them as their medical treatment, it is, perhaps, surprising that 19% of sufferers rely on just one person to confide in whilst 44% have two or three family members or close friends whom they call upon for emotional support. 

People with heart disease or cancer are not only concerned for their own health but think of others too: 37% say that they are worried or anxious for the wellbeing of the people supporting them during their illness and feel guilty about the burden they believe they pose to their family and loved ones.

For family and friends with loved ones affected by heart disease or cancer, life’s not easy either: 38% say that they do not have sufficient emotional support themselves and 28% indicate that they lack somewhere to turn to for useful information about their loved one’s condition.

In addition, they put considerable pressure on themselves to try to provide the emotional support they think they should be giving their loved ones. It’s no surprise that supporters say they feel anxious (45%), scared (32%), nervous (20%) and even guilty (10%) when speaking to the loved one they are trying to comfort.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and AXA PPP healthcare medical adviser, says:

“This study paints a lonely picture both for sufferers of heart disease and cancer and for their loved ones. Faced with such an emotional minefield, it’s unsurprising that nearly half of people with heart disease or cancer prefer to avoid talking about their condition with family and friends once they’ve made known their diagnosis.

“Both patients and their loved ones acknowledge the importance of emotional support during this difficult time. But for so many patients, this is hard to achieve given that they tell so few people – if anyone – about their feelings. And it’s hard for supporters too as they often feel isolated and lacking the emotional support that they need to enable them to be a comfort to their loved ones. Yet there is help at hand and it is important for patients and their loved ones not to forgo the care and support that healthcare professionals, health insurers and charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support and the British Heart Foundation can bring. ”

*Research commissioned by AXA PPP Healthcare and conducted by Vision Critical, between February 1st – 3rd 2012.

‘Sufferer’ sample consists of 279 respondents diagnosed with cancer and/or heart disease interviewed.

‘Supporter’ sample consists of 296 respondents who have a close friend/family member colleague diagnosed with cancer and/or heart disease interviewed.


About AXA PPP healthcare’s ‘Heart and Cancer Commitment’ and Dedicated Nurse Service

On 9 January 2012 AXA PPP launched its ‘Heart and Cancer Commitment’, providing enhanced cover and support for members diagnosed with cancer or heart disease. For more information visit:

In addition, AXA PPP provides a free of charge, telephone-based service called Dedicated Nurse for its members (and their families) affected by a heart condition or cancer. AXA PPP’s Dedicated Nurses provide members with one-to-one medical and emotional support and guidance about their condition and its treatment – bringing reassurance at what can be a difficult and uncertain time.

People can also find out more about cancer and its treatment from AXA PPP’s online ‘Cancer Centre’. For more information visit:

Cancer Research UK news release: More people are living with and beyond cancer (21-06-10):

“There are currently two million cancer survivors in the UK...”

British Heart Foundation, Heart statistic publications, Trends in coronary heart disease 1961-2011 [p4]:

“Over one and a half million people currently living in the UK have had a heart attack, and over two million people have angina and/or heart failure.”