Breast cancer survivors

As part of the Continuous Update Project - our ongoing programme to analyse global research on how diet, nutrition, physical activity and weight affect cancer risk and survival – we have analysed worldwide research on breast cancer survivors.

Published in October 2014, the report on Breast Cancer Survivors is the most rigorous, systematic, global analysis of the scientific research currently available on breast cancer survivors, and how certain lifestyle factors affect how likely it is that a person will survive after developing the disease.

The report specifically focuses on:

  • female breast cancer survivors who are living with a diagnosis of cancer, including those who have recovered from the disease;
  • the link between diet, weight, physical activity and the likelihood of female breast cancer survivors dying from breast cancer, second primary breast cancer (i.e. a new cancer occurring in the same breast after treatment or in the opposite breast), or any other disease.

Breast cancer survivors are defined in the report as women who have received a diagnosis of breast cancer – from the point of diagnosis, through and after treatment.

For the report, the global scientific research on diet, weight, physical activity and female breast cancer survivors was gathered and analysed by a research team at Imperial College London, and then independently assessed by a panel of leading international scientists in order to draw conclusions about surviving breast cancer and reducing the risk of a second primary breast cancer.

The total number of women in the 85 studies reviewed was 164,416; and the total number of deaths in the studies came to 42,572.

Key Findings

The Continuous Update Project’s independent panel of scientists concluded that because of limitations in either the design or execution of much of the research that exists, the evidence is not strong enough to make specific recommendations for breast cancer survivors. However, there are indications of links between better survival after breast cancer and:

  • a healthy body weight
  • being physically active
  • eating foods containing fibre
  • eating foods containing soy
  • a lower intake of total fat and, in particular, saturated fat.

But other factors may explain these links, so further research is needed to investigate the reason for the associations.


  1. After treatment for breast cancer our advice, if it fits with the specific medical advice given, is to follow our Cancer Prevention Recommendations which include eating a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.
  2. More and better scientific research is needed in order to make specific recommendations for breast cancer survivors.

A more detailed overview of the findings is provided in the Executive Summary of the report which can be found here.

Published findings in peer-reviewed journals

Selected findings from the breast cancer survivors CUP update have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The details of the paper and link to the abstract in PubMed are below:

Body mass index and survival in women with breast cancer--systematic literature review and meta-analysis of 82 follow-up studies. Chan D S, Vieira A R, Aune D, Bandera E V, Greenwood D C, McTiernan A, Navarro Rosenblatt D, Thune I, Vieira R, Norat T. Ann Oncol 2014; 25(10): 1901-1914. Abstract.