The presence of friends and family has more of a healing power on breast cancer patients than previously thought.
According to a study published in the journal Cancer, socially isolated patients in the early stages of breast cancer were at a higher risk of dying from the disease.
The research showed that fewer social ties to family, friends, community, religious groups and spouses put the patients at risk.
“I wanted to do this study in a large cohort of women to try and replicate the findings I generated a decade ago,” said study lead author Candyce Kroenke, of Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland.
Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the lifestyle factors of women from the United States and China, totalling 9,267 participants, were analyzed. All of the participants’ exercise, diet, weight management and social interactions habits were examined.
The women were categorized based on their individual amount of close social contacts — such as first-degree relatives and romantic partners — and doctors observed them for over a decade.
Over 11 years, the participants had 1,448 recurrences of breast cancer and 1,521 deaths, including 990 deaths due to breast cancer.
Researchers found the participants who were more socially estranged had a 43 percent higher risk of breast cancer returning than their socially active counterparts. Isolated women were also 64 percent more likely to die from breast cancer and 69 percent more likely to die from any cause, during the duration of the study.
The links between social isolation and poor outcomes appeared to be the strongest among women in the early stages of cancers, not in situations of advanced malignancy.
While the study couldn’t explain why having a large social network helps to protect and enhance the health of women, Kroenke said lifestyle, social support and physiology could be contributing factors.
“Women who are going through breast cancer should get the support they need,” said Kroenke, “and ask for help.”