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Supporting women with diet and exercise after breast cancer treatment

Leading a healthy lifestyle after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can help with this. So, our researchers are looking at ways to better support women with this.

More women are living with and beyond breast cancer than ever before. But they often experience long-lasting low mood or extreme tiredness (fatigue), even after their treatment has ended.

Leading a healthy lifestyle after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can help with this. So, our researchers are looking at ways to better support women with diet and exercise.

Diet, exercise, and breast cancer

Research has shown that after breast cancer treatment, regular exercise can help with daily activities, reduce tiredness, and improve overall quality of life. And it’s been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer coming back.

Despite this, there are many barriers in the National Healthcare System (NHS)  that prevent women from getting the relevant support. A UK-wide survey found that only 20% of women never got advice about physical activity after completing treatment. And, only 14% of women with breast cancer say they were routinely asked about their diet.  

Creating new support programmes

So Dr Sam Orange is creating a pathway to refer women to community support services. This will also include a training package that will help community services adapt their health and lifestyle programmes to support women after breast cancer treatment.

“Surviving breast cancer doesn’t always mean living well. That’s why we’d like to develop a support programme that’ll help women with healthy eating and exercise habits after breast cancer treatment.” explains Sam. “We know that this could help them improve their quality of life. And it could even lower their risk of the disease coming back.’’

If this project is successful, the researchers will carry out a larger study to measure if this programme leads to a better quality of life for women with breast cancer. And it may also help to reduce their risk of a second breast cancer diagnosis.

Lucy’s story

Sam’s research could help women like Lucy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2020. She had her diagnosis when the country had just gone into lockdown, and she had a 1-year-old son at home.

“I found a small lump which the doctor thought was just a cyst, so I wasn’t worried. Not once had it crossed my mind that it could be cancer. I went to my appointment at the breast clinic alone and was even a bit annoyed that I had to go into the hospital during the pandemic.”

After a mammogram and biopsy, Lucy found out she had triple negative breast cancer in August 2020. She finished her treatment in March 2021 and gradually started exercising again. But there were no recommendations or support in terms of diet and exercise.

“I did the Breast Cancer Now Moving Forward course, which was helpful as it connected me with other women trying to rebuild their lives. I also started counselling and sessions with my personal trainer again. I cut all unhealthy things out from my diet, but I am less strict about that now as realise I went a bit over the top.”

Lucy says that exercise has helped her cope with the fear of breast cancer coming back. She ran a half marathon in November 2021, just 7 months after her treatment had finished, and ran the London Marathon this April.

“Running is like my therapy. If I am having a good day, I run, and if I’m having a bad day, I run further. I’m lucky that I have the drive to want to exercise and stay fit, but many women need more support and advice about exercise and diet during recovery, which is why this new research is so important.”

Research projects like this are important steps towards the best possible support for people affected by breast cancer. And with your support we'll be able to fund more research to make sure that by 2050, everyone with breast cancer lives, and lives well.


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