Project details

Researcher: Dr Rebecca Beeken

Location: University of Leeds

Project cost: £229,704

The challenge

Women with excess weight who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher chance of their cancer returning, or being diagnosed with a second breast cancer. They are also more likely to die from breast cancer or other causes. However, since weight loss programmes are not currently prescribed as treatment, this leaves it up to the individual to lose weight themselves which can be very difficult. 

The science behind the project

More women after breast cancer diagnosis could achieve and keep a healthy weight if they are properly supported to do so. Dr Rebecca Beeken and colleagues would like to test a diet programme that has improved the health of people with conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. But it hasn’t yet been tested whether it works for breast cancer patients.

In this project Rebecca and the team will build the insight needed to run a big clinical trial that could lead to this diet programme being offered to overweight women with breast cancer on the NHS.

Women who choose to participate in this study will have completed their hospital treatment for primary breast cancer. They will be assigned at random to either the diet programme group, or the control group, where they will receive brief advice to encourage weight loss. Women following the diet programme, over three months, will receive support from a trained advisor. They will follow a nutritionally balanced meal replacement plan, to reduce calorie intake to 810 calories per day. This will be followed by three months of gradual, supported food reintroduction, and six months of a programme to help them to maintain a healthy weight.

This study will be running at 10 hospitals across the UK. The researchers will ask health and lifestyle questions, measure weight, and take blood samples for analysis at the study’s start, several times during the study, and finally at 12 months when the study finishes. They will also conduct interviews with participants at three, six, and 12 months to ask questions on their experience of the diet programme.

What difference will this project make?

This study will be the first to use this diet programme to help women with breast cancer to lose weight. If the diet is shown to result in successful weight loss in overweight women with breast cancer, they may benefit from reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, increased life expectancy, and improved overall quality of life. If this project is successful, Rebecca will test this diet in a larger study, to determine if it can reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back and spreading. 

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