AROUND 4,000 people living with cancer in Cumbria are suffering with loneliness, a charity has warned.

New research conducted by Ipsos MORI shows that 22 per cent of people with the disease are lonely as result of their diagnosis.

Macmillan Cancer Research say this renders many housebound and unable to feed themselves properly.

The online survey of more than 1,000 adults compared the experiences of those who said they felt lonely with those who said they weren’t.

It found lonely people were three times more likely to admit drinking more alcohol than usual (22 per cent compared to 7 per cent – affecting around 900 people in Cumbria).

They were also five times more likely to have not left the house for days (66 per cent compared to 14 per cent – affecting an estimated 2,800 in Cumbria) and almost three times more likely to have problems sleeping (76 per cent – 3,300 in Cumbria - compared to 27 per cent).

Lonely cancer patients were also five times more likely to skip meals (38 per cent – 1,600 people in Cumbria - compared to 7 per cent) and almost eight times more likely to eat a poor diet (45 per cent – 1,900 in Cumbria - compared to 6 per cent).

Some 13 per cent said they could not afford to buy food although other key reasons included having no food in the house, being too weak to cook and having no appetite.

Patients who were most likely to feel lonely were those whose cancer had spread or relapsed, those living alone or who had made a change to their working life.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Loneliness is blighting the lives of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients in the UK.

"It's hard enough for people being hit with the devastating news that they have cancer, without having to suffer the additional effects that being lonely brings.

“It's heartbreaking to think of people struggling to eat or leave the house because they have been abandoned and left to deal with cancer alone.

"This is a growing problem which is only set to get worse as the number of people diagnosed with cancer doubles from two to four million in the next 20 years."

Mr Devane said the NHS, policymakers and local authorities needed to "wake up to this looming loneliness epidemic and work with us to ensure no-one faces cancer alone.”