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Can wearable technology improve outcomes for breast cancer?

August 12th, 2016

It’s well known that women who exercise regularly after a breast cancer diagnosis have better health outcomes, including higher rates of survival. Unfortunately, few breast cancer patients actually do enough physical exercise to achieve these benefits.

Research in this field has demonstrated that physical activity during and following breast cancer treatment is safe and effective, but it’s an ongoing challenging knowing how to best help women to get started on a fitness regime and then keep it up.

“There can be many reasons why women who have had breast cancer might avoid extra physical activity, such as having low fitness levels or feeling fatigued easily. Knowing this, we still want to encourage them to get out and about as often as possible to optimise health outcomes,” says NBCF-funded researcher Brigid Lynch from Cancer Council Victoria.

“Heath care teams need the tools and knowledge to provide strategies that will help these women do some activity even when they really don’t feel like it,” she says.

Dr Lynch believes that the rise of wearable technology (‘wearables’) such as Apple watches, Fitbits and Garmin devices which collect and analyse data on the physical activity of the wearer, may hold the answer.

“Wearables allow users to easily self-monitor their physical activity behaviour. These devices provide real-time feedback, which helps to motivate individuals to improve their efforts and achieve their exercise goals,” says Dr Lynch.

Dr Lynch sees great potential to harness the popularity of wearables to facilitate behaviour change amongst breast cancer survivors. “One of the most appealing aspects is that each device is relatively inexpensive and can be used almost anywhere – there aren’t really any social or geographical barriers to the use of wearables.”

Healthcare professionals are already beginning to tap into the potential power of the burgeoning wearables industry, particularly for people with chronic conditions; a move that has generated excitement among many health experts although not everyone is convinced.

Currently the capacity of wearables to create sustainable behavioural changes, either alone or as part of a broader intervention approach, is unknown and unsupported by reliable data.

Dr Lynch aims to fill this knowledge gap by undertaking a trial to measure the impact of wearables on the outcomes for women after completing breast cancer treatment – information which will underpin the decisions of healthcare professionals recommending their use.

The ACTIVATE Trial will test whether using wearables can increase physical activity and reduce the amount of time spent sitting by women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer.

Dr Lynch is currently recruiting participants for the ACTIVATE Trial. Women who have been diagnosed with stage I to III postmenopausal breast cancer, who have completed their primary treatment and have access to a smartphone, tablet or computer, are eligible to participate. All participants will be provided with a wearable device that they can keep. They will also need to visit Cancer Council Victoria on one occasion.

For further information, please contact Dr Brigid Lynch on brigid.lynch@cancervic.org.au