This summer Health Psychology Masters student Jordan Neal from the University of Bath joined our Research and Evaluation team. In his short time with the team Jordan conducted research into the nutrition advice and support received by people using our services.
To kick off his research Jordan assisted in setting up an online nutrition survey. There were 117 responses to the survey and 60 of the respondents had used Penny Brohn UK’s nutrition services. Ten of those respondents were recruited for further in-depth interviews having indicated their interest at the end of the survey. All interviewees were women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had been to a nutrition course over the past two years at Penny Brohn UK.
Why breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, making up 25% of all female cancers . Recent expert reports estimate that successful lifestyle interventions could prevent 25-30% of breast cancer cases . Cancer groups with higher survival rates, like breast cancer, benefit the most from dietary alterations . Bearing these in mind Jordan decided to base his research on women with breast cancer who had used our services to access nutrition advice and support.
From the series of interviews, which were conducted either face to face or on the telephone, Jordan found two emerging themes.
The need to be in control
“A multitude of psychological, physical and social needs affect quality of life for people who are living with or beyond cancer and a sense of control over the cancer journey is primary amongst these .”
Having control over what they eat and which supplements they chose to take allowed them to wrestle control from the cancer.
“I think if you feel like you’re helping yourself you feel more in control, you’ve got control of yourself, because cancer takes away all the control of the whole body, and confidence in who you are… instead of it being in control of you, you sort of are taking back the reins a bit.”
The experience of advice and support
A key theme emerging from Jordan’s research is that nutrition advice and support after a cancer diagnosis is lacking, but that Penny Brohn UK is available to fill those gaps.
“Everyone seems to come at you with so much information and it’s just overwhelming to be honest …”
“I can read three papers that say completely different opposing views, but you don’t know the people, so you don’t know what research it was, whether it was good research, whether they’ve used a good cohort of people, what the people were like beforehand.”
“We all have a different make-up, we all have a different DNA, what works for me, I’d never suggest to someone you must do this I’ve done it because that doesn’t mean to say it will work for them. So, I think it’s the same with nutrition, it’s very individual …”
Penny Brohn UK takes an integrated whole person approach to cancer support using evidence-based therapies that work alongside standard medical treatment. This same approach is used when it comes to nutrition. We’re here to support standard treatment, not replace it.
Many Penny Brohn UK clients either received none or inadequate nutrition advice and support prior to coming to the Centre. Penny Brohn UK has helped fill the gap in current nutrition advice and support, by helping people with cancer, and their close supporters, to maintain control over their cancer experience. However, there is a clear need for more nutrition advice and support in Oncology departments across the UK.
- World Cancer Research Fund, 2018, cited in de Kruif et al., 2019
- Harvie, Howell and Evans, 2015
- Kassianos, Raats, Gage and Peacock, 2015
- Mayer, Nasso and Earp, 2017