8 January 2019

New figures released today by national charity Breast Cancer Care reveal the devastating impact on women with breast cancer of conflicting information on foods and risk of the disease coming back, with many suffering years of anxiety about their diet as a result.

Of over 1,500 women with breast cancer in the UK surveyed by the charity, two thirds (68%) think there are conflicting messages about diet and breast cancer online, causing confusion about what lifestyle changes to make.

And with over 8 in ten (83%) of those surveyed reporting that they were not referred by a healthcare professional for support on diet, weight and exercise after their diagnosis, Breast Cancer Care is warning thousands may not know where to access evidence-based information about healthy eating after breast cancer1.

Launching today, the charity has developed an online self-care toolkit for women with breast cancer with reliable information on managing diet and exercise, as well as mental health support.

This comes as 7 in ten (68%) women say they experience anxiety about their diet as a result of their breast cancer diagnosis, with a quarter (24%) of these reporting that they feel anxious every single day.

Significantly, a third (32%) of women diagnosed with breast cancer over three years ago report experiencing anxiety about their diet at least once a week, indicating fears about what foods can and can’t be safely eaten after the disease are often long-lasting.  

Nadene Sweeney, 51 from Essex, had a second breast cancer diagnosis in January 2017, 13 years after her initial diagnosis, and was diagnosed with anxiety in June 2018, largely because of debilitating fears about diet impacting the risk of her cancer returning again. She says:

“I always thought I ate well, but after my second breast cancer diagnosis, I started getting really worried about food. Was I eating enough organic produce? Does consuming too much sugar and caffeine make the cancer come back? Can the right mix of spices, herbs and nuts lower my risk?

“I wanted to do everything possible to stop the cancer returning, but there’s so much confusing information online. Some people say you should do one thing, others say the complete opposite – it’s a minefield. It was so overwhelming, I eventually reached breaking point and was diagnosed with anxiety.

“Support from Breast Cancer Care and counselling has helped me realise you need to do what’s right for you. Fretting about every single thing I was putting into my body made me more ill, so now I’m much kinder to myself, and take each day as it comes.”

Dr Emma Pennery, Clinical Director at Breast Cancer Care, says:

“It’s incredibly disheartening that so many women are facing confusion and anxiety about diet and recurrence after breast cancer. So this January, we’re here with reliable information on healthy eating and exercise, as well as emotional support, to cut through New Year noise about drastic lifestyle changes.

“There’s so much unproven and inaccurate information out there about whether certain foods can impact the risk of breast cancer returning, we know finding clear-cut answers online can feel like going down a rabbit hole.

“And while maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active can help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back, it’s important to remember research on the impact of specific foods is simply not strong enough to make solid recommendations2.”

Breast Cancer Care’s findings also reveal women with breast cancer say they have read about foods that could increase the risk of their cancer returning, despite inadequate and conflicting medical evidence as yet, including:

  • Red meat (41%)
  • Dairy (34%)
  • Soy products (30%)

And those surveyed reveal they have reduced or given up their intake of red meat (69%), dairy (45%) and soy products (30%), suggesting that many women with breast cancer are making lifestyle changes based on insufficient evidence.

Breast Cancer Care’s self-care toolkit can be accessed here

-ENDS-

For further information, please contact:

Georgia Tilley, Press Officer, Breast Cancer Care

020 3105 3360 (out of hours 07702 901 334)

georgia.tilley@breastcancercare.org.uk 

Notes to editors

Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26 November – 17 December 2018. Total sample size: 1,589 women from the UK, all of whom have had a diagnosis of primary breast cancer.

Total sample size for individual questions may vary due to women answering specific questions according to their personal experience.

Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number. For exact figures and full findings please contact Georgia Tilley.

Further information on diet, lifestyle and breast cancer recurrence can be found here.

This could be a referral to a hospital run service, a local breast cancer support group or a local voluntary sector support service, such as a Breast Cancer Care Moving Forward course.

NICE guidance on lifestyle associated with a lower risk of recurrence omits any mention of diet:

  • achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
  • limiting alcohol intake to below 5 units per week
  • regular physical activity

About Breast Cancer Care

Breast Cancer Care is the only specialist UK wide charity providing support for women, men, family and friends affected by breast cancer. We’ve been caring for them, supporting them, and campaigning on their behalf since 1973.

Today, we continue to offer a unique range of support including reliable information, one-to-one support over the phone and online from nurses and people who’ve been there. We also offer local group support across the UK.

From the moment someone notices something isn’t right, through to their treatment and beyond, we’re there to help people affected by breast cancer feel more in control. www.breastcancercare.org.uk