Friends may Help You Live longer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JANUARY 06, 2017

This study from Kaiser Permanente in California makes me both happy and skeptical. As you will see if you bear with me and connect with the link, it suggests that women who have breast cancer may have a lower recurrence risk and even live longer if they have active social networks.

There have been innumerable studies suggesting that we do better in life if we are socially connected and have good relationships. Not a surprise. As you likely know, there are some studies that suggest that people who are married/partnered live longer than those who are single. People are social animals; remember the old Barbra Streisand song: People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. But it is not that simple.

Think for a moment re the single/partnered piece. There are so many factors at play: do you eat better if you are sharing meals instead of cooking (or not) for one? Do you drink or party less? Do you get out more and stay more active? Does a partner notice if you are not well and insist that you go to the doctor? Is the financial health of the household higher if there is more than one income and does that influence access to healthcare? etc.

I especially think of the famous David Spiegel study from Stanford in the 1980s; he found that women who had metastatic breast cancer and who attended a support group lived longer than their peers who did not go to a group. No one was ever able to replicated the results, and a later study actually found the opposite. As you know, I am a big fan of good support groups and especially treasure my weekly group for women with metastatic disease. We often talk about the importance of the group, and they all agree that the relationships and understanding and support are invaluable. That is, sadly, different from extending life. Improves quality of life, no question, but probably not the length of life.

Without further ado, her is a link to Cure Today:

Women's Social Networks May Play Role in Breast Cancer
Survival and Recurrence

Katie Kosko

Women with breast cancer who are socially isolated tend to have higher rates of recurrence and mortality, according to a new study published today in the journal CANCER.
Researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California found that these women had a 40 percent higher risk of recurrence, a 60 percent higher risk of dying from breast cancer and a 70 percent higher risk of dying from any cause when compared with socially integrated women. The associations were stronger in those with stage 1 and 2 cancer, stated the study.
“Social ties seem to be strong predictors of mortality in generally healthy populations, but this large study also seems to confirm the importance of social ties for breast cancer-specific deaths as well as for recurrence, so it confirmed associations that I had found a decade ago,” Candyce Kroenke, Sc.D., lead researcher on the study, said in an interview with CURE.
She and her team studied 9,267 women from four smaller cohorts of women from across the United States and Shanghai, China, to see how their social networks might affect their survival.
A social network was defined by the presence of a spouse/partner, religious ties, community ties, friendship ties and numbers of living first-degree relatives. The women participating provided data within two years of diagnosis.

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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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