A study published today in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, reports that breast cancer is less likely to recur among women who have a good social network than in those who are more socially isolated.
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Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and the second most common cancer overall. Around 12% of all new cancer cases affect the breast. In countries with programmes to allow early detection of breast cancer, survival rates are good.
The 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with early breast cancer in North America is in excess of 90%. However, this is an average estimate and there are a variety of factors other than the cancer itself that affect cancer outcomes in a particular individual.
Researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California analysed information from 9267 women with breast cancer to investigate how the social status of a women during the 2 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer may affect their chances of survival.
They found that rates of cancer recurrence and mortality were higher among women who were more socially isolated than among those with larger social networks. However, not all types of social interactions were associated with better outcomes and some were only beneficial in specific subsets of women.
Among the women studied, there were 1448 cancer recurrences and 1521 deaths (990 from breast cancer). The median duration of follow-up was 10.6 years.
Women who were socially isolated had a 40% higher risk of recurrence and a 60% higher risk of dying from breast cancer than socially integrated women. Their overall risk of dying (any cause) was also 70% higher.
The extent of the effect on outcomes differed according to the type of social ties a woman had and her ethnic background. For example, non-White women had lower breast cancer–specific mortality if they had strong ties with family and friends, whereas the risk of breast cancer-specific mortality in older White women was lower if they had a spouse.
These findings, from a large pooled cohort of nearly 10,000 women with breast cancer, confirm the generally beneficial influence of women's social ties on breast cancer recurrence and mortality; however, they also point to complexity, that not all social ties are beneficial, and not in all women.”
Lead researcher, Dr Candyce Kroenke
It may therefore be important for clinicians to gain an insight into the sociodemography of a breast cancer survivor when considering their prognosis. Additional research is needed to understand how social networks influence outcomes. Once indentified, such mechanisms may be used as the basis for new interventions for improving prognosis in breast cancer.