| 11 April 2006
Social isolation ups risk of breast cancer death
Candyce Kroenke, of the Center for Health and Community, reports that women who have few close friends or family members at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis are more likely to die from breast cancer than those who are more socially integrated.
WOMEN who have few close family members or friends at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis are more likely to die from the disease than those who are more socially integrated, a study has found.
"Social connections matter for breast cancer survival," said one of the study's authors, Candyce Kroenke, from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco.
"Among women with breast cancer, social isolation may serve to limit access to care, specifically informal care-giving from friends and family, which may affect breast cancer outcomes," said the report, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Dr Kroenke and her team examined data from nearly 3000 women who were aged 46 to 71 in 1992 and who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1992 and 2002.
The women completed periodic questionnaires, including items related to their social networks, such as marital status and the frequency of contact they had with close friends and relatives.
By 2004, 224 women had died, including 107 who died from breast cancer.
Based on the researchers' analysis, socially isolated women were 66 per cent more likely to die from all causes and twice as likely to die from breast cancer than those who were the most socially integrated.
"I think that women who were isolated didn't have a strong reserve of people to call on that help with management of breast cancer," Dr Kroenke said.
Participating in religious or community activities did not appear to have any effect on the women's survival after breast cancer diagnosis, however, and having a confidant or spouse was similarly unrelated to their survival, the report indicates.
Yet the presence or absence of close relatives, friends and living children each had a great impact on survival.
Women who had no close relatives or friends were about three and four times more likely to die from breast cancer, respectively, than those with 10 or more close relatives or friends.
Also, those who had no living children had a nearly sixfold increased risk of death from breast cancer compared with those with six or more living children, the report found.
Compared with church and community group participation, the ties of family and friends had a significant impact on survival perhaps "because they provided care in a way that helped them [patients] manage breast cancer - pragmatic things such as help to the doctor, help with meds, meals, talking to clinicians and helping with information," Dr Kroenke said.
In light of the findings, women diagnosed with breast cancer should know that the support of others can make a difference in terms of survival, she said.