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Good Social Ties Improve Breast Cancer Survival

Loneliness is a risk factor for poor health outcomes, per a new Kaiser Permanente study.


Your social network – including spouses or partners, family members, friends, and community and religious relationships – is quite important to all women, but particularly so for those who have breast cancer. Those with the most social ties have been found to have significantly lower death rates and disease recurrence than women who are socially isolated.

In the largest study to date of its type, researchers gathered data from 9,267 women diagnosed with stages 1 to 4 invasive breast cancer that were enrolled in the “After Breast Cancer Pooling Project.” Many lifestyle factors, including exercise, diet and weight management were also assessed in addition to social factors. The women were followed for up to 20 years.

Those who were characterized as “socially isolated” were:

• 43 percent more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer
• 64 percent more likely to die from breast cancer
• 69 percent more likely to die from any cause

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"It is well established that women generally and those with breast cancer with greater social ties have a lower risk of death overall," said lead researcher Candyce Kroenke ScD MPH.

People are social animals, added Kassandra Alcaraz, strategic director for health equity research at the American Cancer Society. “We are not meant to be isolated…Social relationships are important to general health and well-being.”

Having connections to others helps reduce stress and depression, which can lead to better health outcomes. And of course, having a good support system can help you get through treatment – from transportation concerns to helping to prepare meals when you are having a difficult course.

Take a look around at your own personal social network. Know that there are always people around you that are willing to help – even if all you need is a shoulder.

Journal Reference:
Candyce H. Kroenke, et al. Postdiagnosis social networks and breast cancer mortality in the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project. Cancer, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/cncr.30440

Photo Credit:
By Jason Hutchens - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons