Breast Cancer Patients With Strong Support System Live Longer Cancer Free


There really is some truth behind the song lyric “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center add to the growing evidence that breast cancer survivors who have a strong social support system are more likely to live longer without recurrence.

Emotional Support From Family Friends Provides Risk Reduction

Over 2,000 breast cancer survivors were enrolled in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survivor Study, a large, population-based review of female breast cancer survivors, between 2002 and 2004. The women completed a quality of life survey six months after diagnosis and a majority responded to a follow-up survey 30 months later.

On the survey, the women were asked questions about physical issues such as sleep, eating and pain as well as psychological well-being and social support. The answers were converted to an overall quality of life score.

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Only social well-being was significantly associated with a decreased risk of dying or having a cancer recurrence. Women with the highest scores in this area had a 48% reduction in their risk of cancer recurrence and a 28% reduction in the risk of death over women who scored the lowest.


Emotional support was the strongest predictor of cancer recurrence. Women who reported high satisfaction with marriage and family had a 43% risk reduction, while those with “favorable interpersonal relationships” had a 35% risk reduction. Emotional support was most beneficial when it occurred during the first year after diagnosis.

“We found that social well-being in the first year after cancer diagnosis is an important prognostic factor for breast cancer recurrence or death,” said first author and assistant professor at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) Meira Epplein. “This suggests that the opportunity exists for the design of treatment interventions to maintain or enhance social support soon after diagnosis to improve disease outcomes.”

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For those without immediate family support after a diagnosis of breast cancer, joining a support group can provide benefits as well. Most studies indicate that participation in a support group result in positive effects on psychological well-being. Some studies have found a correlation between support groups and increased survival time, but there are also studies that contradict these findings.

Support groups are beneficial because they provide a connection during an experience that can sometimes feel isolation. There is also the opportunity to receive tips and information how to handle symptoms after treatment and how to improve lifestyle habits that may factor into a cancer recurrence, such as diet and physical activity.

Source: The Journal of Clinical Oncology