ForImmediate Release

Friday, 9th January, 2008



NHS North Lancashire is fundinggroundbreaking research into the benefits of the Chinese sport of dragon boatracing in the prevention of some of the distressing side-effects associatedwith breast cancer treatment.


The Primary CareTrust (PCT) has awarded a research bursary of £10,000 to researchers at SheffieldHallam University in order to study the connection between physical activityand breast cancer related lymphoedema – an often distressing side effectof breast cancer treatment.


The project is one of five being funded byNHS North Lancashire in celebration of the NHS 60th birthday thisyear.   Earlier this year thePCT announced that individuals or organisations with an interest in conductingresearch into innovative improvements in health in the region could apply for abursary and Dr Helen Crank, Senior Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University was one ofthe successful applicants.


Dr Crank is using the bursary funds to work closely withPaddlers for Life, a massively successful charity in the region which ishelping cancer survivors regain their confidence and health through dragon boatracing, to investigatewhether the sport can be an effective way to manage lymphoedema and improve thephysical and psychological wellbeing of breast cancer survivors.


The information gathered from thisresearch will be passed on to healthcare professionals and women and men whohave been treated for breast cancer so as to help shape the future of exerciseand cancer rehabilitation referral schemes.


Lymphoedema is a conditioncharacterised by swelling caused by a build up of lymph fluid in the tissues. Breastcancer related lymphoedema occurs as a result of damage to the lymphatic systemwhich can be caused by breast surgery and radiotherapy to the lymph nodes inthe armpit and surrounding areas such as the neck or chest.  Up to 40% of women who receivetreatment for breast cancer experience the condition. Typically patientsexperience swelling of the arm or hand on the surgical side, which can beaccompanied by sensations of pain or heaviness, and so negatively affectingsurvivor's quality of life.


Commonly, theadvice offered to women who suffer with breast cancer related lymphoedemarecommends only very gentle exercise and much caution, but dragon boat researchcarried out in Canada suggests that in fact more strenuous exercise might playa vital role in recovery from breast cancer. The physical demands of dragonboat paddling and related exercise training can improve cardio-respiratoryfitness, shoulder joint range of movement and muscle tone which all combine to assistlymph fluid propulsion and prevent further increases in arm swelling.


However, UK-basedstudies must be carried out to understand how much and what type of training isneeded to gain health improvements and if the effects seen in Canada can beachieved by breast cancer survivors here in the UK. This research programmewill therefore be an important step in obtaining evidence before exerciseprogrammes such as dragon boat racing can formally be offered by the NHS forbreast cancer survivors.


Ian Cumming,Chief Executive of NHS North Lancashire, says: “We are very pleased to be able to support this worthwhile researchproject which will lead to a better insight into the role of exercise inspeeding recovery from breast cancer related lymphoedema.


“We hope that through funding this research, morecancer survivors right across the UK can experience the physical and mentalbenefits that team sports such as dragon boat racing can provide.


“Fundingresearch projects such as this is an ideal way to celebrate the NHS 60th birthday:They will ensure that new insights and developments can continue to be made inhealthcare in the Lancaster, Fylde and Wyre districts that we serve so that wecontinue to ensure a first class health service for the next 60 years.”


Dr Helen Crank says: “I am delighted that NHS North Lancashire has been able to fund thisresearch.  Through the project I’mworking closely with Paddlers for Life, but I hope that breast cancer survivorsacross the UK will be able to benefit from the results of this work.

Dragon boat trainingand racing might prove to be ideal for breast cancer survivors for a number ofreasons, not least because it provides survivors with a vehicle for physicalrecovery, but being a team activity it also seems to help build a sense ofcamaraderie, motivation for exercise, and provide a vital network of socialsupport amongst paddlers. By following a dragon-boat exercise training plan, paddlerscan work according to their own fitness abilities to improve theircardiovascular fitness and physical strength".


“Paddlers for Life is an excellent example of howcancer survivors can improve their physical and mental health through exercise.Team members who started the exercise programme with existing lymphoedemaexperienced reductions in arm swelling and those members who did not havelymphoedema did not experience any adverse effects from this type of exercisetraining. Clearly, the friendships and sense of camaraderie that dragon boatracing fosters within the team has been absolutely vital in giving paddlers a senseof wellbeing.”


Paddlers for Lifeis a crew of cancer survivors from across Lancashire and Cumbria, who take toLake Windermere each weekend in dragon boats, go to more information on Paddlers for Life.


Dragon boatracing originated in China. Dragon boats themselves are long boats that seatbetween 14 and 18 paddlers together with a drummer. At the head of the boatthere is typically an ornately carved dragon head. Races typically involvebetween two and four boats over a 200 metre stretch of water.






For moreinformation, contact Laura Priest on 01524 519 394 or on

For moreinformation on paddlers for life, go to


Notes to Editors:

Š      North Lancashire Teaching Primary Care Trust was established inOctober 2006 and is responsible for the delivery of healthcare in NorthLancashire through doctors, dentists, pharmacists and optometrists and theemployment of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and languagetherapists, podiatrists, nurses, health visitors and other professional peopleproviding services in the community.

Š      The PCT is responsible forthe local healthcare budget (just under £500 million), which means money can bespent where it is most needed, in hospitals and the community, for the directbenefit of the people of Fylde, Lancaster and Wyre boroughs.

Š      The PCT is running a hugely successful and rapidly growing Affiliate Scheme, the first of its kindin the country.   It is a wayto ensure that residents of North Lancashire have their say in Healthcareprovision in the area.  For moreinformation go to

Š     This year marks the 60thbirthday of the NHS

Š      Dr. Helen Crank is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Sport andExercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University. Contact: Tel. 0114 225 5572.