Socially integrated women, or those with a great number of social ties, have dramatically lower rates of breast cancer disease recurrence and death compared with their socially isolated counterparts.

In a study published in the journal Cancer, researchers explored the connection between breast cancer survival and social networks, which is defined to be the web of personal relationships that a person has. According to what is believed to be the largest study on the subject, socially isolated women are 43 percent likelier to experience breast cancer recurrence, 64 percent likelier to die from the disease and 69 percent likelier to die from any other cause.

Large Breast Cancer Study

Candyce Kroenke and colleagues used data from the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project, a pooled cohort involving four studies on women with breast cancer. A total of 9, 267 women with stages 1 to 4 of the disease were included in the study, resulting in data from California, Texas, Utah, Arizona, Oregon and Shanghai, China. The researchers assessed a variety of lifestyle factors to see how they affect breast cancer survival.

Participants in the study were made to answer surveys within two years of their diagnosis and were part of a follow-up period that led up to 20 years. Based on their answers to the survey, the women were grouped as socially integrated, moderately integrated and socially isolated. Given that the study had a sizable sample, it let the researchers control for a number of factors so as not to get confusing results.

Kroenke, Sc.D., M.P.H., the study's lead author, however, said that their findings are also complex in that they point to the realization that not all social ties offer benefit to women.

"The types of social ties that mattered for women with breast cancer differed by sociodemographic factors including race/ethnicity, age and country of origin," she added.

Still, the study's findings should be able to assist doctors in coming up with clinical interventions in terms of social support particularly suited to patients with breast cancer, depending on the sociodemographic groups they belong to.

Social Interactions And Good Health

Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the study was based on earlier research done by Kroenke where it was established that social interactions of the positive sort are associated with better quality of life, that great personal relationships are connected to improved chances of survival and that larger social networks typically equate to healthy lifestyles.

Kroenke was joined by Marilyn Kwan, Ph.D., Bette Caan, Dr.PH., Yvonne Michael, Ph.D., Elizabeth Poole, Sc.D., Wendy Chen, M.D., Sarah Nechuta, Ph.D., Xiao-Ou Shu, M.D., Eric Leas, Ph.D., John Pierce, Ph.D., and Ying Zheng, Ph.D. in the study.

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