Public Release: 12-Dec-2016
Kaiser Permanente study shows women with more social connections have higher breast cancer survival
Largest study to date builds on previous research showing social networks are related to higher quality of life and healthy lifestyle factors
In a large Kaiser Permanente study of women with invasive breast cancer, socially integrated women -- those with the most social ties, such as spouses, community ties, friendships and family members -- were shown to have significantly lower breast cancer death rates and disease recurrence than socially isolated women. This study was published today in the American Cancer Society journal Cancer.
"It is well established that women who have more social ties generally, including those with breast cancer, have a lower risk of death overall," said Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research and lead author of the study. "Our findings demonstrate the beneficial influence of women's social ties on breast cancer-specific outcomes, including recurrence and breast cancer death."
The women were characterized as socially isolated (few ties), moderately integrated, or socially integrated (many ties). The large sample size allowed researchers to control for numerous factors that might confound results.
Compared to socially integrated women, the study found that socially isolated women were:
43 percent more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer
64 percent more likely to die from breast cancer
69 percent more likely to die from any cause
Despite these findings, Kroenke noted that the results also point to complexity, in that not all types of social ties were beneficial to all women.
For example, researchers found that older white women without a spouse or partner were 37 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than older white women with one, a relationship that wasn't apparent in other demographic groups. By contrast, non-white women with few friendships were 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than those with many friendship ties, and non-white women with fewer relatives were 33 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than those with many relative ties, relationships that were not apparent in white women.
"The types of social ties that mattered for women with breast cancer differed by sociodemographic factors including race/ethnicity, age and country of origin," Kroenke noted. "Ultimately, this research may be able to help doctors tailor clinical interventions regarding social support for breast cancer patients based on the particular needs of women in different sociodemographic groups."
The study builds on previous research by Kroenke and colleagues who found that positive social interactions are related to higher quality of life in breast cancer patients; high-quality personal relationships are related to better survival; and larger networks are related to healthy lifestyle factors.