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Living with breast cancer research

Researchers around the world are looking at better ways to cope with the emotional, psychological and physical effects of breast cancer. They are keen to improve people’s quality of life with breast cancer.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for breast cancer in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time before the results are available. This is because the trial team follow the patients for a period of time and collect and analyse the results. We have included this ongoing research to give examples of the type of research being carried out in breast cancer

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe

Complementary therapies

A complementary therapy means it can be used alongside standard cancer treatment. Complementary therapies might help people feel and cope better with their cancer and treatment.

Some breast cancer treatments cause a build up of lymph fluid in the arm. This is called lymphoedema. Although this condition can't be cured, it's possible to have treatment to reduce the swelling and stop the fluid from building up again. Researchers in one small study looked at the role of reflexology Open a glossary item in managing lymphoedema. Those taking part had a type of reflexology called Reflexology Lymph Drainage (RLD).

They found that RLD helped those who had breast cancer surgery. It helped to reduce swelling and pain in their affected arm. It also improved quality of life. The researchers hope to look at RLD further in clinical trials. 

Quality of life

Researchers are asking women about their health and well being during and after breast cancer treatment. They want to find out how breast cancer affects quality of life so they can improve how symptoms are managed and the support people might need. Researchers are also developing and testing new questionnaires to ask people about their quality of life.

Treatment side effects

Research into side effects is important so that people:

  • have as few side effects as possible
  • have the information, support and treatment they need to cope with the side effects
  • spot and get treatment for side effects as early as possible

All trials looking at treatment will also collect information about the side effects that people have. For example, if they feel sick, have any skin problems or pain. Many of the trial teams also ask questions about everyday life. So they can understand better how treatment impacts quality of life.

Diet and exercise

There is a lot of interest in the possible benefits of dietary changes and supplements for women with breast cancer. Also, researchers are looking into how exercise helps women cope with treatment and recover after breast cancer.

A research study looked at diet, complementary therapies and lifestyle, to see if these factors affect breast cancer survival. The researchers found that women often change their diet after being diagnosed with breast cancer. They also looked at a group of chemicals found in plants, called phytoestrogens. They found the level of phytoestrogens in the diet did not affect how well women did after their treatment (their prognosis). The researchers are still following up on the women in this study.

Other research is looking at women’s diets after treatment for breast cancer. Researchers want to know whether women follow dietary advice. They are also comparing different types of diets and exercise programmes to see if these affect weight gain or chemotherapy side effects. They want to know more about how diet and exercise affects quality of life.

A Cancer Research UK trial suggested that including an exercise programme as part of follow up can improve recovery and give a sense of wellbeing.

Support

Coping with cancer can be difficult and researchers want to find better ways to support people diagnosed with breast cancer.

Researchers have developed a training package for therapy radiographers Open a glossary item. They want to see if this can help lower the fears and worry that a patient might have during their radiotherapy treatment. The therapy radiographers would use this package to offer better support and information to women with breast cancer.

Other studies are looking at:

  • women’s experience of diagnosis
  • how social networks and relationships impact the way people look after themselves after cancer treatment

A recent study looked at how young women make decisions about surgery. It helped the researchers develop a tool to help young women understand their options and make decisions.

Cancer Research UK supported a study looking at what support a patient needs from the time they first spot symptoms through to their diagnosis. It was part of the National Awareness and Early Detection Initiative (NAEDI). The findings of this study found that:

  • the nationality and country of birth affected what women knew and thought about breast cancer
  • information and advice about symptoms needs to be presented differently to different people. This would help them understand more about breast cancer and help prevent delays in diagnosis.