Loved Patients Live Longer

Breast cancer patients live longer with strong social ties and emotional support

(RxWiki News) The road to beating breast cancer can be long and tough. Having a few really supportive friends or a large group to lean on can be a powerful source of strength.

A recent study followed breast cancer patients after diagnosis and asked them about their support networks. Whether large or small, the strength of support was what mattered the most.

Results of this study showed that women in a socially isolated group had a 34 percent higher mortality rate than other women.

"Reach out for support - during and after treatment."

Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH, researcher at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, led the team of investigators. 

Dr. Kroenke said, “We found that women with small social networks had a significantly higher risk of mortality than those with large networks.”

For the study, 2,264 breast cancer patients diagnosed from 1997-2000 were followed for 11 to 39 months to provide information for the Life After Cancer Epidemiology (LACE) study.

The women were divided into three subgroups: socially isolated, moderately integrated, and socially integrated.

How involved or supportive these women’s social circles were also factored into results. Strong social ties were considered family, community, religious groups and/or friends.

Patients with both few social ties and low levels of support had a 61 percent higher mortality rate than patients with few, but very supportive social ties.

Dr. Kroenke said, “Women with small networks and high levels of support were not at greater risk than those with large networks, but those with small networks and low levels of support were.”

This study was published after an 11-year follow-up to confirm mortality rates. A total of 410 women of the original group had died, 215 from breast cancer specifically.

Dr. Kroenke concluded, “We also found that when family relationships were less supportive, community and religious ties were critical to survival.”

“This suggests that both the quality of relationships, rather than just the size of the network, matters to survival, and that community relationships matter when relationships with friends and family are less supportive.”

Christopher Ruud, MD, contributing expert oncologist from Austin Cancer Centers, said, “It has always seemed to me that good health in the face of cancer has four simple parts:

  • Control pain and other side effects
  • Good sleep
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Doing something that is meaningful each day

“It is the gift of cancer survivors since Betty Ford. The openness and living with cancer are the survivors gift to their sisters."

This study was published in November in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Funding was provided for the research by the National Cancer Institute, Molecular Profiles and Lifestyle Factors in Breast Cancer Prognosis. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
November 11, 2012