Wearable technology and breast cancer survivors

This study provides some evidence that wearable fitness trackers may improve the quality of life of breast cancer survivors

  • Topic: Breast cancer
  • Institution: Cancer Council Victoria
  • Country: Australia
  • Status: Completed
Researcher: Brigid Lynch

Grant title

Using wearable technology activity monitors to increase physical activity and decrease sitting time amongst breast cancer survivors


Breast cancer survival rates are high, however, many women experience ongoing poor health and compromised quality of life as a result of this disease and its treatment. Increasing physical activity is known to improve health outcomes for women who have had breast cancer (‘survivors’); reducing the time they spend sitting each day may also benefit their health. Most breast cancer survivors do not do enough physical activity to remain in good health, and many spend prolonged periods of time – upwards of ten hours per day – sitting.

Wearable technology activity monitors provide automated feedback on physical activity and sitting time via mobile telephone applications or personal computer. The technology is low cost, has wide reach and has broad applications for use in clinical and public health settings. Initial interventions in healthy populations have shown promising results. To date, no published studies have examined the use of this technology in cancer survivors.

Hypothesis and objectives

The objective was to test whether giving breast cancer survivors wearable activity monitors, such as the Fitbit® Flex or the JawboneTM UP24, in conjunction with telephone health coaching (the ‘intervention’), increases their physical activity and reduces their sitting time. We also examined whether improvements in these behaviours were sustained after the breast cancer survivors stopped using the wearable activity monitor and receiving telephone health coaching. Finally, we examined whether the wearable activity monitor alone leads to any changes in physical activity or sitting time.

How the study was carried out

We recruited 83 inactive, postmenopausal women diagnosed with stage I-III breast cancer who had finished treatment, and randomly assigned them to receive the full intervention (‘intervention group’), or to receive an abridged intervention after a 12-week wait (‘waitlist control group’). To assess how effective the full and abridged interventions were, we measured participants’ physical activity and sitting time with accelerometers (research devices that accurately measure movement) at the start of the study, following the first 12-week period, and after the second 12-week period.


Women in the intervention group increased their physical activity by about 70 minutes per week, and decreased their sitting time by about 40 minutes a day, in comparison with women who had not received any intervention during the first 12 weeks. The women in the intervention group successfully maintained their increased physical activity over another 12-week period (where they did not have any contact with the research team). However, they did increase their sitting time over this second 12-week period.

The study participants who received the abridged intervention (the Garmin Vivofit2® only) increased their physical activity and reduced their sitting time. Over the second 12-week period, the waitlist control group increased their physical activity by about 30 minutes a week, and reduced their sitting time by close to 40 minutes a week. However, we did not have a comparison group to compare their behaviour change to, so the waitlist control results should be interpreted with some caution.