Socially Active Women Less Likely to Die of Breast Cancer, Disease Recurrence

Breast cancer patients with many social ties have significantly lower rates of death and recurrence.

Women with more social ties have significantly lower breast cancer death rates and disease recurrence compared with socially isolated women, according to a study published in Cancer.

This study of social networks and breast cancer survival is believed to be the largest to date, and includes 9267 women diagnosed with stage 1 to 4 invasive breast cancer, who were enrolled in the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project.

Investigators collected data from the breast cancer survivorship studies conducted in Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas, and Shanghai, China. They analyzed how a range of lifestyle factors —–diet, exercise, weight management, and social factors––affect breast cancer survivorship.

Women were asked to answer surveys within 2 years of diagnosis about their personal relationships and social networks, including spouses or partners, community and friendship ties, and the number of first-degree, living relatives. They were then followed for up to 20 years.

In the study, the women were characterized as socially isolated (few ties), moderately integrated, or socially integrated (many ties). The results of the study found that compared with socially integrated women, socially isolated women were 43% more likely to have breast cancer recurrence, 64% were more likely to die from breast cancer; and 69% more likely to die from any cause.

“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 lead author Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH. “Our findings demonstrate that beneficial influence of women’s social ties on breast cancer specific outcomes, including recurrence of breast cancer death.”

Although the results are eye-opening, they are also complex. The authors noted that not all types of social ties were beneficial to all women.

Older white women without a spouse or partner were 37% more likely to die from breast cancer compared with older white women with a relationship, which was not apparent in other demographic groups.

Furthermore, 40% of non-white women with few friendships were more likely to die of breast cancer than those with many friendships. Meanwhile, 33% of non-white women with fewer relatives were more likely to die of breast cancer than those with many relative ties, which was not apparent in white women.

“The types of social ties that mattered for women with breast cancer differed from sociodemographic factors including race/ethnicity, age, and country of origin,” Kroenke said. “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 current study builds on prior studies by Kroenke and colleagues, who discovered that positive social interactions were associated with higher quality-of-life in breast cancer patients.

Additionally, high-quality personal relationships are related to better survival, and larger networks are related to healthy lifestyle factors.