Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Improving the breast cancer journey for women with experience of mental illness

Monday 11 April 2016 2:13pm

Dr Ruth Cunningham

Researchers at the University of Otago, Wellington are seeking participants for a study to investigate the breast cancer care journey for women with mental illness in order to improve their care.

Breast cancer is a common cause of death for New Zealand women. There is growing evidence that women with experience of mental illness have worse outcomes after breast cancer diagnosis than women without such experience, say researchers Dr Debbie Peterson and Dr Ruth Cunningham.

The researchers are looking for women in the Wellington/Wairarapa region who have experienced both mental illness and breast cancer, and who first used mental health services before being diagnosed with breast cancer.

“We want to discover why there is a difference in the outcomes for these two groups — those who have experience of mental illness and those who don’t,” says Dr Cunningham, from the University’s Department of Public Health.

So far no research has explored the cancer care journey from the perspective of women with experience of mental illness.

“As far as we are aware, no similar research has been done internationally. By seeking the voices of those with the dual experience of mental illness and breast cancer this project will address that research gap,” says Dr Peterson, from the University’s Social Psychiatry and Population Mental Health Research Unit.

“We will then be able to develop recommendations for cancer services, in collaboration with cancer clinicians and mental health service users. The aim is to improve cancer care and treatment,” says Dr Peterson.

“This study will look at the health needs of women with experience of mental illness, a group not often the focus of research. Moreover it prioritises the perspective of women with experience of mental illness,” they say.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in participating in this research, please contact Dr Ruth Cunningham, 04 918 6725 or email

For media enquiries, please contact:
Dr Ruth Cunningham, Senior Research Fellow
Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 04 918 6725
Cell 021 029 65750

For a list of Otago experts available for media comment, please go to: