Breast cancer patients with strong social ties have better outcomes than more isolated peers

Women with invasive breast cancer and high levels of social integration are more likely to survive than socially isolated women, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer.

For the study, researchers examined the social networks of 9,267 women diagnosed with stage I to stage IV invasive breast cancer enrolled in the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project. The project included women from California, Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Texas and Shanghai, China. Social networks were characterized by the prevalence of personal relationships with a spouse or partner, friends and relatives, and public interactions through religious and community ties. These networks were assessed via questionnaires within two years of a breast cancer diagnosis. The patients were tracked for 20 years.

After adjusting for lifestyle factors such as exercise and diet, researchers found socially isolated women were 43 percent more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer, 64 percent more likely to die from the disease and 69 percent more likely to die from any cause when compared to their socially integrated counterparts.

"The types of social ties that mattered for women with breast cancer differed by sociodemographic factors including race/ethnicity, age and country of origin," said Candyce Kroenke, the study's lead author and a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland. "Ultimately, this research may be able to help doctors tailor clinical interventions regarding social support for breast cancer patients based on the particular needs of women in different sociodemographic groups."

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