One of the most vital therapies to help you survive cancer is one most people overlook—a healthy social life. While early detection and proper medical care are of primary importance, according to a new study, social relationships also play an important role. A team of scientists at Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research found that the quality of your personal relationships is as important as how many people are there to support you when it comes to predicting breast cancer survival.
Past studies have found that women with larger social networks (including spouses or partners, female relatives, friends, religious and social ties, and voluntary work) have a better chance of surviving breast cancer. This new study reveals that the quality of those relationships also is important to survival. It furthers the growing opinion that people with cancer take more control to help themselves beat the disease.
The study included 2,264 women diagnosed with early-stage, invasive breast cancer, and examined them from 1997 to 2000. After providing information on their personal relationships, they were characterized as socially isolated (few ties), moderately integrated, or socially integrated (many ties).
The researchers found that women with small social networks had a significantly higher risk of death than those with large networks. Socially isolated women were 34% more likely to die from breast cancer or other causes than socially integrated women. Larger social networks were linked to lower mortality risk from all causes.
They used a survey to measure the quality of the women’s relationships, and also characterized them as having high or low levels of social support.
After an average of 11 years post-diagnosis, 410 women had died from all causes and 215 from breast cancer.
The study found that levels of support within relationships were important risk factors for breast cancer mortality. Basically, women with small networks, but high levels of support, were not at greater risk than those with large networks. Those with small networks and low support were 61% more likely to die from breast cancer and other causes than those with small networks and high levels of support.
If the family relationships were less supportive, community and religious ties were critical to survival. This further shows that the quality of relationships matters to survival. And, that community relationships matter when relationships with friends and family are less supportive.
Even if women don’t have strong social relationships, there are ways to improve these important networks. Two quick places to turn are the community and religion. Groups that help forge a sense of inclusion can deliver the kind of support proven to help people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer beat the disease.
Sources for Today’s Articles:
Study Finds Surprising Way to Help Beat Breast Cancer
Kroenke, C., et al., “Social networks, social support and burden in relationships, and mortality after breast cancer diagnosis,” Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 2012; 133 (1): 375; DOI: 10.1007/s10549-012-1962-3.