Breast Health

Strong Social Ties May Help Women Survive Cancer

Learning you have breast cancer can be overwhelming. Many women face hard decisions about their care. A new study indicates that having a strong social network may help women better cope with a breast cancer diagnosis. In particular, it may boost their odds of survival.

Photo of two women talking at restaurant

Quality, not quantity

Researchers in California followed more than 2,200 women with early stage invasive breast cancer for an average of 11 years, beginning in 1997. Over this timeframe, 625 women died-215 from breast cancer.

At the beginning of the study, the women were asked to classify their social networks as small, moderate, or large. A social network was defined as personal relationships with spouses, female relatives, and friends. Connections through the church or other social activities, such as volunteering, were also included.

Researchers found that the size of a woman's social network didn't necessarily boost her odds of survival. Rather, the level of support within those personal relationships seemed the key. In the study, women with less social interaction fared worse. They had a 34 percent higher chance of dying overall-not just from breast cancer. Among those with a small social network, women with little support had a 61 percent increased risk for death compared with women who had more support.

"Women with small networks and high levels of support were not at greater risk than those with large networks. But those with small networks and low levels of support were," says study lead author Candyce Kroenke, M.P.H.

All social ties important

Family members are often available for women coping with breast cancer-but not in all cases. Other social connections, such as religious organizations, can play an important support role, too.

"We found that when family relationships were less supportive, community and religious ties were critical to survival," Kroenke says. "This suggests that both the quality of relationships, rather than just the size of the network, matters to survival. Community relationships matter when relationships with friends and family are less supportive."

The study was published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Cancer Society - Survivorship: During and After Treatment

National Cancer Institute - Breast Cancer

January 2013

Managing Life with Breast Cancer

The world doesn't stop when your doctor says, "You have breast cancer." Research shows that active coping, acknowledging the disease, and making a plan to manage it can help you live well with cancer. Strategies from the American Cancer Society include:

  • Learn more. Searching for information on the Internet, calling cancer-related organizations, or visiting the library can help you feel more in control. Talk with your doctor about what you find to be sure the information is accurate.

  • Seek social support. Friends, family, and clergy can help with everyday tasks and provide emotional strength.

  • Eat right. Food often doesn't taste as good during treatment, but you need enough calories to keep a healthy weight. Ask a nutritionist for tips on preparing meals that appeal to you.

  • Exercise. If you have breast surgery, stretching and strengthening your arms and shoulders lessens its side effects. Walking, swimming, or yoga may provide energy and relieve stress.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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