Decorative image

Living with breast cancer research

Find out about research into living with breast cancer.

People with breast cancer have to cope with emotional and psychological effects as well as physical effects. Researchers are keen to improve the quality of life of people with breast cancer. So research into living with cancer can make a real difference to people who are diagnosed.

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.

Examples of research into complementary therapies include:

  • acupuncture to help with the side effects of treatment such as nerve damage or swelling (lymphoedema)
  • mindfulness to help women with secondary breast cancer cope with tiredness (fatigue), anxiety and depression
  • reflexology to help with lymphoedema

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

Side effects that researchers are looking at include:

  • lymphoedema
  • tiredness
  • pain after surgery
  • aching and painful joints
  • nerve pain, caused by chemotherapy
  • soreness and redness on palms and soles of feet, caused by chemotherapy
  • menopausal symptoms

Diet after breast cancer

There is a lot of interest in the possible benefits of dietary changes and supplements for women with 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 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.


Research is ongoing into how exercise helps women cope with treatment and recover after breast cancer.

Researchers are looking at an exercise programme during chemotherapy. They will see if it improves cognitive functioning and how people feel during chemotherapy.

Results from a Cancer Research UK trial suggested that including an exercise programme as part of follow up can improve recovery and give a sense of well being.


Health care professionals would like to offer better support and information to women with breast cancer.

A study is looking at women’s experience of diagnosis. They want to find out what support they need from the time they first spot symptoms through to their diagnosis. Researchers are also looking at how best to support women when they have finished their breast cancer treatment. 

Researchers have looked at how young women make decisions about surgery. They used their findings to develop a tool to help young women understand their options and make decisions. In a separate study, researchers have also looked at how and why elderly women with breast cancer decide to have chemotherapy or not.

Researchers are also finding out about the information needs of women with breast cancer who have BRCA gene changes. They want to find out what information women need, and when it is best to give them this information.

Clinical trials

Information and help