Strong Social Ties Lead to Better Breast Cancer Outcomes, Study Finds

By Hannah Guzik

Patients with strong social ties tend to experience better health, and that appears to true for breast cancer patients as well, a new study has found.

Women with invasive breast cancer who had robust personal relationships were less likely to die from the cancer or have it reoccur, according to the study, published last month in the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal Cancer.

Women who were socially isolated were 43 percent more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer, 64 percent more likely to die from breast cancer and 69 percent more likely to die from any cause.

Previous research has shown that women with more social ties have a lower risk of death, including women with breast cancer, according to the lead researcher, Candyce H. Kroenke, a scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

The study shows that social connections also influence the reoccurrence of breast cancer, as well as general outcomes for breast cancer patients.

Researchers studied 9,267 women diagnosed with stages 1 to 4 invasive breast cancer. The women, some of whom live in Northern California, had previously participated in one of four studies that are collectively known as the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, examined the social connections of the women, looking at whether they were close to spouses, other family members, friends or community members.

While the number of social ties tended to correlate with better health outcomes, the results varied depending on race, ethnicity, age and country of origin.

For example, older white women without a spouse were 37 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than the same group who were married. However, the marital status of younger white women or women of other racial groups wasn’t correlated with their health outcomes.

For these women, friendships and relatives seemed to be more important. For example, women of color with few friendships were 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer. And women of color with fewer relatives were 33 percent more likely to die from breast cancer.

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