Breast cancer patients who have lots of friends and social relationships tend to cope with the pain and other symptoms associated with the disease better than those who are more isolated, according to new research published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Lead author of the study Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH, staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente, Division of Research, said:

“This study provides research-based evidence that social support helps with physical symptoms. Social support mechanisms matter in terms of physical outcomes.”

Breast cancer is a kind of cancer that develops from breast cells. Malignancy usually starts off in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply them with milk.

Breast cancer accounts for 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women.

As the first study of its kind to assess the effects of social interaction among cancer patients, the researchers were able to identify the benefits of having friends and engaging in social interaction with them.

In conclusion, the researchers found that breast cancer patients who engaged in more conversation and interaction in general, were able to cope with their symptoms better than those who didn’t.

In addition, they found that women who had help around the house were also more able to cope with their symptoms.

Korenke said:

“While hundreds of studies have examined the role of factors influencing cancer risk and prevention, this study is one of a small but growing number that focus on quality of life after a breast cancer diagnosis.”

A total of 3,139 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer participated in the study conducted by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in California. They analyzed what effect social interaction had on the participants’ ability to cope with symptoms that are associated with the breast cancer.

Participants were asked about their social networks such as the number of friends they had, the support they received from relatives and social and community ties.

The authors found that those who had more contact with their friends or family were at a better position to deal with their symptoms. Being able to do fun things with friends helped the patients in many ways. Apart from giving them moral support, the interaction was found to help alleviate physical symptoms of the disease.

Women with the largest social networks or personal relationships reported the best overall quality of life during their breast cancer treatment. Higher levels of support was associated with better emotional well-being too.

Of the types of social interaction, positive social interaction in particular (such as the availability of other people to do fun things with) was associated with the best quality of life.

Women with little social interaction were more likely to report a low quality of life.

Kroenke and co-authors wrote:

“Positive social interaction was significantly related to every quality-of-life measure. Given that this dimension was determined by the availability of someone with whom to have fun, relax and get one’s mind off things for awhile, it is possible that positive social interaction may enable women to forget for a while the distress of being a cancer patient, and the physiologic effects last beyond the actual interaction.”

Women who didn’t receive tangible support, which included doing chores or providing food, were 2.74 percent more likely to report a lower quality of life compared to those who did.

As more women are being cured of breast cancer, it is imperative that their quality of life following treatment improves too.

A previous study published in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, revealed that social environment can play an important role in the biology of disease, including breast cancer, and can lead to significant differences in health outcome.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist