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Breast cancer: Lonely patients less likely to survive disease

Compared with socially integrated women, socially isolated women had a 40 per cent higher risk of recurrence, a 60 per cent higher risk of dying from breast cancer, and a 70 per cent higher risk of dying from any cause.

Breast cancer: Lonely patients less likely to survive disease

Los Angeles: Women who are socially isolated are far less likely to survive breast cancer and have higher rates of recurrence, a new study claims.

The study found that more socially isolated breast cancer survivors had higher rates of recurrence and mortality, while women with larger social networks experienced better outcomes.

It also showed that some types of social ties were beneficial, while others were not, and that some types of relationships only benefited patients in certain racial or age groups.

For the analysis, researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in the US examined information on 9,267 women with breast cancer to see how patient's social networks within about two years following their diagnosis might affect their survival.

Over a median follow-up of 10.6 years, there were 1,448 cancer recurrences and 1,521 deaths (990 from breast cancer).

Compared with socially integrated women, socially isolated women had a 40 per cent higher risk of recurrence, a 60 per cent higher risk of dying from breast cancer, and a 70 per cent higher risk of dying from any cause.

These associations were stronger in those with stage I/II cancer. Specific associations differed by age, race/ethnicity, and country of origin.

For example, ties to relatives and friends predicted lower breast cancer-specific mortality in non-White women, whereas having a spouse predicted lower breast cancer-specific mortality in older White women, researchers said.

Community ties predicted better outcomes in older Whites and Asians.

"It is well established that larger social networks predict lower overall mortality in healthy populations and in breast cancer patients, but associations with breast cancer-specific outcomes like recurrence and breast cancer mortality have been mixed," said Candyce Kroenke, from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

"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," said Kroenke.

Kroenke added that clinicians should assess information on social networks as a marker of prognosis and should consider that critical supports may differ by socio-demographic factors.

The study was published in the journal CANCER. 

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