Living with and beyond cancer

Other health problems

Living with and beyond cancer may not be the only health-related challenge that people have to cope with. Some people we spoke to were living with other health problems that had either predated their cancer or developed afterwards or at the same time. Problems mentioned included diabetes, heart disease or other vascular problems, diseases of the blood or immune system, arthritis or other musculoskeletal problems, bowel or bladder problems, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, skin conditions, kidney disease, glaucoma, cataracts, tonsillitis, bad teeth, and depression.
Some conditions may have arisen as a side effect or complication of the cancer or its treatment (see also Other long-term physical effects’), while others were unconnected to the cancer. It is not always possible to know with certainty whether health problems that occur after cancer are related to it.
Having had cancer could make people worry more about the possible significance of new signs of health problems. Some said that new symptoms had been investigated during follow-up by their cancer specialist to check whether they were associated with a recurrence of their cancer or to something unrelated. Some pointed out that they couldn’t be sure whether perceived bodily changes were due to illness or to ageing. Others said they had asked for checks for conditions that were common in their family regardless of whether they themselves were experiencing symptoms.
People who have received certain cancer treatments have an increased risk of developing another type of cancer later in life. Several people we spoke to had developed a second type of cancer or were having investigations for something that might be cancer; some were found to have benign (non-cancerous) cysts or polyps. A woman who was shocked to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma three years after breast cancer said she had a feeling of déjà vu and was concerned about how she would break the news to her family. Other people may be at higher risk of getting a second cancer because they have inherited a predisposition to certain cancers.
Some people said that their cancer had been the biggest health issue they had faced so far in their life. Others said that other illnesses or conditions had a greater impact on their everyday life than the cancer had, some saying that cancer had merely been an ‘interlude’ or ‘episode’ in their life. Several people said that they were currently coping with more than one health problem and needed to take lots of different medicines and attend hospital appointments frequently.

​Last reviewed October 2018.
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