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Social Support May Improve Breast Cancer Outcomes

Social well-being during the first year after a breast cancer diagnosis may have a beneficial effect on cancer outcomes. These results were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

A diagnosis of breast cancer often affects a woman’s quality of life, but it’s been less clear whether quality of life affects breast cancer outcomes. Quality of life has physical, psychological, social, and material aspects, and any one these (or a combination) may affect health. 

To explore the relationship between post-diagnosis quality of life and breast cancer outcomes, researchers evaluated information from the Shanghai Breast Cancer Study. The study enrolled more than 2,000 women. Information about quality of life was collected six and 36 months after diagnosis.

Women were followed for close to five years after their initial quality-of-life assessment.   

  • Social well-being at six months after diagnosis was linked with both survival and risk of recurrence. Women with the highest level of social well-being had a 38% reduction in risk of death and a 48% reduction in risk of recurrence. The aspects of social well-being that appeared to provide the most benefit were marriage and family, social support, and interpersonal relationships.
  • The other measures of quality of life (physical, psychological, and material) at six months after diagnosis did not significantly cancer outcomes, although there was a suggestion that psychological well-being may be important.
  • By 36 months after diagnosis, none of the quality of life measures were strongly linked with cancer outcomes.

The researchers conclude “Social well-being in the first year after cancer diagnosis is a significant prognostic factor for breast cancer recurrence or mortality, suggesting a possible avenue of intervention by maintaining or enhancing social support for women soon after their breast cancer diagnosis to improve disease outcomes.”

Reference: Epplein M, Zheng Y, Zheng W et al. Quality of life after breast cancer diagnosis and survival. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Early online publication December 20, 2010.