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Social Support Helps Breast Cancer Patients Live Longer

New research indicates that having a strong social support system in the first year following a breast cancer diagnosis can mean a higher survival rate and reduced chance for cancer recurrence.

The study, conducted by the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Shanghai Institute of Preventive Medicine, followed more than 2,000 female breast cancer survivors in China. Participants completed quality of life surveys at certain intervals after diagnosis that asked about psychological and material well-being, social support, and physical issues like sleep, eating, and pain.

During follow-up almost five years after the initial surveys, researchers found that the only element that led to a decreased risk of dying or having a cancer recurrence in the women was greater social well-being. Compared to women with the lowest scores, women who scored highest on the social well-being quality of life scale had a 48 percent reduction in their risk of a cancer recurrence and a 38 percent reduction in the risk of death.

“We found that social well-being in the first year after cancer diagnosis is an important factor for breast cancer recurrence or death, said Meira Epplein, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine at VICC and leader of the study. “This suggests that the opportunity exists for the design of treatment interventions to maintain or enhance social support soon after diagnosis to improve disease outcomes.”

This study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. More information about the connection between social well-being and health can be found at PsychCentral and at Food Consumer.


February 11, 2011