Scottish study uses breast screening clinics to promote healthy lifestyle programme

A study by the universities of Aberdeen and Dundee has found that using breast screening clinics to introduce ‘lifestyle advice’ to women could have a positive impact on personal health.

The ActWELL initiative – a programme funded by the Scottish Government – was introduced to women who attended regular breast screening appointments through the NHS.

A randomised trial involving 650 women, between 50 to 70 years of age, saw participants divided into two groups, with 278 taking part in the lifestyle programme and the rest receiving standard breast screening care.

ActWELL involves lifestyle coaches, managed by the charity Breast Cancer Now, delivering in-person and phone support. Discussions included identifying weight loss goals, as well as following up on progress and providing direction.

Women were encouraged and supported to make changes to their diet and exercise regimens, with researchers finding that such a targeted and structured programme ‘doubled the likelihood of clinically significant weight loss’ within a year. And, after 12 months on the ActWELL programme, participants were found to have lost an average of 2.5kg.

“Our study has shown that structured guidance on physical activity and diet using important techniques from health psychology could have a major effect on breast cancer risk,” said Professor Annie Anderson, from Dundee’s School of Medicine.

“We all know that diet and exercise contribute greatly to our overall health, but sometimes the direct links between these factors and cancer can be forgotten. Promoting heathier lifestyle options at a time when women are attending breast screening appointments could be the reminder that triggers many into adopting habits that could potentially save lives.”

Obesity is a ‘known factor for breast cancer’ according to the University of Aberdeen, with experts hoping that initiatives such as this one could impact cancer rates for women.

Professor Shaun Treweek, from the University of Aberdeen, said: “ActWELL has shown that volunteer coaches, working with a charity, really can help reduce women’s breast cancer risk. The support offered by volunteers was key to ActWELL’s success.”

Jeane Freeman, SNP MP and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, added: “The outcomes of the study are now being considered as part of our ongoing work to further reduce inequalities and support cancer prevention work.”

Breast cancer is currently reported to be the most common cause of cancer in women across the world. While the University of Aberdeen also notes that ‘around 30% of breast cancers in post-menopausal women are related to lifestyle’ and that a weight loss of 2kg to 4.5kg is associated with ‘18% lower risk of breast cancer’.

Find out more about the study and the potential impact of healthy lifestyle choices on cancer risk, on the ActWell site.