Do Social Connections Lower Death Rates from Breast Cancer?

Women diagnosed with breast cancer have greater rates of survival and lower rates of disease recurrences if they have more social ties, compared to women who are more socially isolated. These results were recently published in the journal Cancer.

Social isolation is a feeling that is commonly described among people diagnosed with cancer. However, there are now greater opportunities given to individuals diagnosed with cancer to be able to connect with others socially, such as support groups, social networking systems, and an overall awareness of these issues. Studies have demonstrated that people who are more socially connected tend to have improved survival rates; however, the reasons for this, as well as the specific causes of mortality are beginning to undergo more evaluation by researchers.

Researchers affiliated with the Kaiser Permanente medical group recently conducted a study referred to as the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project to further assess the potential associations between social networks and outcomes specific to breast cancer among 9,267 women. The participants provided data regarding their social networking within approximately 2 years of their diagnosis.

The information to determine a social networking index included the following: presence of spouse or partner; social ties to church; social ties to communities; friendships; and the number of living first-degree relatives.

  • Socially isolated women (small social networking index) had significantly higher rates of breast cancer recurrences, mortality from breast cancer, and overall mortality, compared to women who had greater social networking.
  • Among older white women, a lack of spouse or partner, and lack of community social ties were associated with higher mortality from breast cancer.
  • Among non-white women, a lack of relatives and friendship ties were associated with higher mortality from breast cancer.

The researchers concluded that social ties significantly affect outcomes among patients with breast cancer. Specifically, greater social ties are associated with improved overall survival, reduced mortality from breast cancer, and reduced breast cancer recurrences across all stages of breast cancer. The authors state that “Clinicians should assess social network information as a marker of prognosis because critical supports may differ with sociodemographic factors.”

Patients with breast cancer who feel socially isolated should speak with their healthcare providers or social workers to understand the options of participating in social networking systems.

Reference: Kroenke C, Michael Y, Elizabeth Poole, et al. Postdiagnosis social networks and breast cancer mortality in the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project. Cancer. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.30440. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.30440/abstract;jsessionid=7A5CB7577C2497901D2B3FA58D289038.f02t02. Accessed December 21, 2016.