OAKLAND, Calif., Nov. 9, 2012 The quality of a woman's social networksthe personal relationships that surround an individualappears to be just as important as the size of her networks in predicting breast cancer survival, Kaiser Permanente scientists report in the current issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
Previous research has shown that women with larger social networksincluding spouses or partners, female relatives, friends, religious and social ties, and ties to the community through volunteeringhave better breast cancer survival. This study is among the first to show that the quality of those relationships also is important to survival.
The study included 2,264 women who were diagnosed with early-stage, invasive breast cancer between 1997 and 2000, and who were part of the Life After Cancer Epidemiology (LACE) study. After providing information on their personal relationships, they were characterized as socially isolated (few ties), moderately integrated, or socially integrated (many ties).
"We found that women with small social networks had a significantly higher risk of mortality than those with large networks," said Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research and lead author of the study.
The study found that socially isolated women were 34 percent more likely to die from breast cancer or other causes than socially integrated women. Specifically, larger social networks were "unrelated to recurrence or breast cancer mortality, (they) were associated with lower mortality from all causes," the authors wrote.
Researchers measured levels of social support from friends and family using a survey that asked women to rate the quality of their relationships on a five-point scale within the past week. For example, the questions included, "My family has accepted my illness," "family communication about my illness is poor," and
|Contact: Catherine Hylas Saunders|