Women who’ve experienced breast cancer – and their four-legged friends – explored in new research

Date 6.09.2019

The relationship between women who have experienced breast cancer and their dogs and whether this positively impacts on their health forms new University of Northampton research.

Melissa Symonds, Senior Lecturer in Oncology is conducting the research for her PhD and is looking for women in the local region and UK wide to lend their views in an online survey.

Melissa’s aim is to take their responses to help inform healthcare professionals about the important role dogs play in the lives of women with breast cancer so that they can help support the bond women (with breast cancer) have with their four-legged friends.*

The survey is online and anonymous and takes around 20 minutes to complete. The questions cover the physical, emotional and social impact of having breast cancer and women’s relationship with their dogs, such as the practicalities of looking after it, how attentive and messy they feel the dog is, the emotional bond between them and how women feel their dog impacts on their life.

The volunteers needed should be female**, aged between 50 and 70 years of age and have had a primary diagnosis of breast cancer between 2009 and 2019.

Melissa explains about why she has focused on this particular area: “My interest is two-fold, both professional and personal. I have a background in oncology, having worked as a therapeutic radiographer. I have also spent many years as a puppy parent for assistance dog charities and have seen the comfort and support a dog can bring to an individual. Outside of my work life I am also a dog trainer and have my own dog – a spaniel called Pablo – so I have a keen interest in human-dog interaction.

“I’m interested in finding out more about this this unique relationship and rapport women who have experienced breast cancer have with their dogs and how it can be enhanced for the benefit of both parties and hopefully meeting some of the women and their dogs who participate in the survey.”

The survey can be found online.

If you have any questions or would like further information please contact Melissa by email: melissa.symonds@northampton.ac.uk


*The Royal College of Nursing are recognising the importance of access to animals as being therapeutic and are appealing for those in the health service to embrace the benefits and understand better the benefits and barriers to access (RCN, 2016).

**Although breast cancer can also affect men it is a disease predominantly of women and the coping strategies of men and women are known to be different. This would introduce another variable which would affect the results of this particular study.