£500k for scientifically developed meals specifically for breast cancer survivors

Innovate UK has awarded a grant of nearly £500k to support the development of meals tailored for breast cancer survivors.

With one in seven women in the UK likely to develop breast cancer during their lifetime, the post-treatment phase often leaves survivors feeling abandoned, marking a challenging and emotional period.

Field Doctor and Perci Health have partnered to launch a food and care programme aimed at fostering healthy eating habits among survivors during this critical time. Field Doctor, known for its science-led, dietitian-designed, chef-made frozen meals tailored to individual health and wellbeing needs, and Perci Health, the virtual cancer survivorship clinic providing access to multidisciplinary cancer experts, are at the forefront of this initiative.

The programme is driven by the understanding that diet plays a significant role in the recurrence of breast cancer. It seeks to develop a clinician-approved plan to support survivors in adopting a nutritious diet to help mitigate the risk of recurrence.

Kelly McCabe, Co-Founder of Perci Health, said: “After a breast cancer diagnosis, many people can feel uncertain about what to eat. There’s a lot of conflicting information online about the impact of certain foods on breast cancer and this can lead to an increased anxiety about diet. At the same time, after treatment, people are looking to optimise their overall health and wellbeing and recover strength and energy levels, so the importance of consuming a recovery-supportive nutritious diet is heightened.”

Alex Brooks, Co-Founder of Field Doctor, said: “We’ve all been affected by cancer, whether personally or someone close to us that we know, so we’re really focused to develop a range of meals to support cancer survivors and get the best outcomes.  Our team of registered dietitians and chefs are creating a range of great tasting clinician-approved, patient-tested meals and snacks that deliver the specific nutrient profiles to help breast cancer survivors. The programme will be delivered weekly so that it’s convenient, with the meals ready to heat and eat, with the additional support and advice alongside.

“We’re looking to see positive outcomes on a number of levels, firstly the ‘acceptance’ of the meal programme, that it’s easily integrated into the person’s routine. Secondly, to see if we can improve specific health metrics, like vitamin D levels, as it’s a micronutrient shown to support good outcomes, which we’ll track via blood markers.”

McCabe adds: “Alongside the meal range, we want to deliver improved confidence and knowledge around nutrition for people living with and beyond a breast cancer diagnosis. This will empower them to make healthy lifestyle choices in the long-term.

“Therefore, we’re also developing a breast-cancer specific educational programme providing detailed, evidence-based information about the links between diet and breast cancer. This will enable people to develop their own healthy meal plans at home, well beyond the six-week programme. Access to specialist dietitians for breast cancer patients is limited - our aim is to make this easily accessible for anyone who needs it.”

The programme aims to integrate seamlessly into survivors' routines, improving specific health metrics, such as vitamin D levels, tracked via blood markers. McCabe also stressed the importance of empowering survivors with confidence and knowledge about nutrition, aiming to provide accessible specialist dietitian advice and a breast-cancer-specific educational programme.

Harvard Medical School supports the six-week duration of Field Doctor's meal programme as sufficient to foster transformative changes in eating habits, aiming to enhance the immune system, reduce fatigue, and contribute to healthy levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose.

McCabe and Brooks both acknowledge the significant advances in breast cancer survival rates but recognise the ongoing challenges faced by survivors dealing with long-term treatment effects. This initiative represents a step towards supporting survivors' return to normal life, with aspirations to extend the dietary programme to other cancer groups and potentially have a preventative effect for those at higher risk.

While Field Doctor is responsible for developing and designing the food programme, Perci Health will contribute scientific, patient-validated data and expertly created content. This collaboration includes establishing baseline nutritional specifications, reviewing literature, and assessing the programme's impact on participants.

The initiative addresses the need for innovation in post-cancer care, a relatively new field due to historical low survival rates. Perci Health's mission is to challenge the status quo for cancer survivors, offering virtual clinics with a range of vetted cancer experts. Field Doctor believes in the power of diet for better health outcomes and offers meals for various health goals and conditions, prepared with quality ingredients and free from ultra-processed foods (UPFs), having garnered innovation and Great Taste awards.

This partnership and funding highlight the ongoing need for long-term support and innovation in cancer aftercare, a gap that organisations like Macmillan Cancer Support have been highlighting for years, addressing the sense of abandonment felt by many survivors post-treatment.