Strong social ties benefit breast cancer patients

January 20, 2011

Breast cancer patients who have a strong social support system in the first year after diagnosis are less likely to die or have a recurrence of cancer, according to new research from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) and the Shanghai Institute of Preventive Medicine. The study, led by first author Meira Epplein, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine at VICC, was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Patients in the study were enrolled in the Shanghai Survivor Study, a large, population-based review of female in China, which Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Shanghai Institute of Preventive Medicine have carried out since 2002 under the leadership of principal investigator Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine at VICC, and senior author of the study.

From 2002 to 2004, a total of 2,230 breast cancer survivors completed a quality of life survey six months after diagnosis and a majority responded to a follow-up survey 36 months after diagnosis. The women were asked about physical issues like sleep, eating and pain, psychological well-being, social support and material well-being. The answers were converted to an overall quality of life score.

During a median follow-up of 4.8 years after the initial quality of life assessment, the investigators documented participants who had died or been diagnosed with a .

Six months after diagnosis, only greater social well-being was significantly associated with a decreased risk of dying or having a cancer recurrence. Compared to women with the lowest scores, women who scored highest on the social well-being quality of life scale had a 48 percent reduction in their risk of a cancer recurrence and a 38 percent reduction in the risk of death.

Emotional support was the strongest predictor of cancer recurrence. Specifically, women reporting the highest satisfaction with marriage and family had a 43 percent risk reduction, while those with strong social support had a 40 percent risk reduction and those with favorable interpersonal relationships had a 35 percent risk reduction.

"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 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."

While a strong social support network influenced cancer recurrence and mortality during the first year, the association tapered off and was no longer statistically significant by the third year after diagnosis. This may be related to a smaller sample size of patients who answered the questionnaire, or other factors beyond quality of life that take precedence in later years.

"Our research supports previous studies that found a benefit for who have a meaningful emotional support network," said Epplein. "These results suggest that therapeutic interventions may be useful because social well-being is potentially modifiable."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study prompts new ideas on cancers' origins

December 16, 2017
Rapidly dividing, yet aberrant stem cells are a major source of cancer. But a new study suggests that mature cells also play a key role in initiating cancer—a finding that could upend the way scientists think about the ...

What does hair loss have to teach us about cancer metastasis?

December 15, 2017
Understanding how cancer cells are able to metastasize—migrate from the primary tumor to distant sites in the body—and developing therapies to inhibit this process are the focus of many laboratories around the country. ...

Cancer immunotherapy may work better in patients with specific genes

December 15, 2017
Cancer cells arise when DNA is mutated, and these cells should be recognized as "foreign" by the immune system. However, cancer cells have found ways to evade detection by the immune system.

Scientists pinpoint gene to blame for poorer survival rate in early-onset breast cancer patients

December 15, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the University of Southampton has found that inherited variation in a particular gene may be to blame for the lower survival rate of patients diagnosed with early-onset breast cancer.

Scientists unlock structure of mTOR, a key cancer cell signaling protein

December 14, 2017
Researchers in the Sloan Kettering Institute have solved the structure of an important signaling molecule in cancer cells. They used a new technology called cryo-EM to visualize the structure in three dimensions. The detailed ...

'Bet hedging' explains the efficacy of many combination cancer therapies

December 14, 2017
The efficacy of many FDA-approved cancer drug combinations is not due to synergistic interactions between drugs, but rather to a form of "bet hedging," according to a new study published by Harvard Medical School researchers ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.