Though there are numerous types of cancer, breast cancer has seemingly become the type we abhor the most. It targets and sometimes takes our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters. Sometimes, although relatively rare, it even affects the men in our lives. It’s a scourge — but there has been tremendous progress in treating it over the years.
As innocuous as it may seem, loneliness — particularly among cancer patients — can be deadly. People experiencing the shock of a diagnosis, and the subsequent whirlwind of treatments and doctors appointments can sometimes find themselves getting lost in the fray. Though they may see a lot of people over the course of a week, they can be crushed by loneliness. And it can do a lot more harm than you might anticipate.
Loneliness and surviving breast cancer
We know loneliness is deadly for cancer patients because a new study has provided us with evidence. By looking at female breast cancer patients’ social networks, researchers from Kaiser Permanente concluded social interaction plays an important role in improving survival rates. The study was published 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,” Candyce Kroenke, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “Our findings demonstrate the beneficial influence of women’s social ties on breast cancer-specific outcomes, including recurrence and breast cancer death.”
They researchers looked at more than 9,200 women with different stages of breast cancer. Different lifestyle attributes were examined — exercise, diet, etc. — as well as personal social networks. They found women who were less socially integrated were more likely to die sooner than those who were more integrated. In fact, socially isolated women were “43% more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer.” Also, they were “64% more likely to die from breast cancer.” And interestingly enough, they were “69% more likely to die from any cause.”
Recouping from cancer
So, if you’re close to someone fighting cancer, or are yourself dealing with a diagnosis, don’t go into isolation. The numbers clearly show a huge drop in survival rates among those who shun social interaction, but there are some caveats. The researchers say there were a ton of factors that may differ depending on race and age. “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,” Kroenke said.
The other big question is why this relationship exists. Why does social interaction improve survival odds? There isn’t a clear answer. But higher rates of social interaction seem to be correlated with a higher quality of life. If you’re getting out more, you’re likely having more experiences and more fun. This, in a general sense, appears to help people recover and move on.
For those who are fighting cancer, this means trying to avoid going into a shell. Get out. See friends and family (if you’re healthy enough), and try to maintain social ties. If you have a loved one who is going through treatment, try to spend more time with them. The research shows a pretty clear relationship between survivability and social interaction. Do what you can to skew the odds.