NHS Press release of funding for lymphoedema research project.

Press Release

For Immediate Release

Friday, 9th January, 2008


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

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

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

Dr Crank is using the bursary funds to work closely with Paddlers for Life, a massively successful charity in the region which is helping cancer survivors regain their confidence and health through dragon boat racing, to investigate whether the sport can be an effective way to manage lymphoedema and improve the physical and psychological well being of breast cancer survivors.

The information gathered from this research 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 exercise and cancer rehabilitation referral schemes.

Lymphoedema is a condition characterised by swelling caused by a build up of lymph fluid in the tissues. Breast cancer related lymphoedema occurs as a result of damage to the lymphatic system which can be caused by breast surgery and radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the armpit and surrounding areas such as the neck or chest. Up to 40% of women who receive treatment for breast cancer experience the condition. Typically patient’s experience swelling of the arm or hand on the surgical side, which can be accompanied by sensations of pain or heaviness, and so negatively affecting survivor’s quality of life.

Commonly, theadvice offered to women who suffer with breast cancer related lymphoedema recommends only very gentle exercise and much caution, but dragon boat research carried out in Canada suggests that in fact more strenuous exercise might play a vital role in recovery from breast cancer. The physical demands of dragon boat paddling and related exercise training can improve cardio-respiratory fitness, shoulder joint range of movement and muscle tone which all combine to assist lymph fluid propulsion and prevent further increases in arm swelling.

However, UK-based studies 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 be achieved by breast cancer survivors here in the UK. This research programme will therefore be an important step in obtaining evidence before exercise programmes such as dragon boat racing can formally be offered by the NHS for breast cancer survivors.

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

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

“Funding research 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 in healthcare in the Lancaster, Fylde and Wyre districts that we serve so that we continue 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 this research. Through the project I’m working closely with Paddlers for Life, but I hope that breast cancer survivors across the UK will be able to benefit from the results of this work.

Dragon boat training and racing might prove to be ideal for breast cancer survivors for a number of reasons, not least because it provides survivors with a vehicle for physical recovery, but being a team activity it also seems to help build a sense of camaraderie, motivation for exercise, and provide a vital network of social support amongst paddlers. By following a dragon-boat exercise training plan, paddlers can work according to their own fitness abilities to improve their cardiovascular fitness and physical strength”.

“Paddlers for Life is an excellent example of how cancer survivors can improve their physical and mental health through exercise.Team members who started the exercise programme with existing lymphoedema experienced reductions in arm swelling and those members who did not have lymphoedema did not experience any adverse effects from this type of exercise training. Clearly, the friendships and sense of camaraderie that dragon boat racing fosters within the team has been absolutely vital in giving paddlers a sense of well being.”

Paddlers for Life is a crew of cancer survivors from across Lancashire and Cumbria, who take to Lake Windermere each weekend in dragon boats, go to http://www.paddlersforlife.co.uk for more information on Paddlers for Life.

Dragon boat racing originated in China. Dragon boats themselves are long boats that seat between 14 and 18 paddlers together with a drummer. At the head of the boat there is typically an ornately carved dragon head. Races typically involve between two and four boats over a 200 metre stretch of water.


For more information, contact Laura Priest on 01524 519 394 or on Laura.Priest@northlancs.nhs.uk

For more information on paddlers for life, go to www.paddlersforlife.co.uk)

Notes to Editors:

· North Lancashire Teaching Primary Care Trust was established in October 2006 and is responsible for the delivery of healthcare in North Lancashire through doctors, dentists, pharmacists and optometrists and the employment of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, podiatrists, nurses, health visitors and other professional people providing services in the community.

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

· The PCT is running a hugely successful and rapidly growing Affiliate Scheme, the first of its kind in the country. It is a way to ensure that residents of North Lancashire have their say in Health care provision in the area. For more information go to www.northlancshealth.nhs.uk

· This year marks the 60th birthday of the NHS

· Dr. Helen Crank is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University. Contact: H.Crank@shu.ac.uk Tel. 0114 225 5572.

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