According to a new study published in the journal Cancer, women in the early stages of cancer with less social ties have higher mortality likelihood from the disease as compared those who are more socially connected.
The study tries to drive home the point that 43 percent of women with early breast cancer who are not socially involved with family, spouse, partner, community and religious groups are more susceptible to a relapse of the dreaded disease, 64 percent are more likely to die from it and 69% of socially isolated women can die due to any cause.
According to co-author Wendy Chen, a breast cancer oncologist at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, while the study may point towards the vulnerability of socially isolated women to health issues it is not ample proof that social support can actually prolong life.
The research funded by the National Cancer Institute is based on the case study of 9267 women from California, Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, and China, over a period of ten years.
Researchers involved in the study who took into consideration factors like diet, weight management, physical activities and, social connectivity and interaction have concluded that socially isolated women are certainly different from the socially connected ones.
The lead author of the journal, Candyce Kroenke, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, agrees with this assertation.
The study revealed that isolated women had a tendency to be heavier, more inclined to smoke, less interested in physical activities and less likely to go for chemotherapy treatment irrespective of the treatment being appropriate for them or not.
However, while the study is not conclusive with regards to the prolonging of life in early breast cancer patients, Candyce Kroenke is, nevertheless, convinced that social isolation does play an important role.
The limitations of the study and apprehensions about the findings from certain quarters:
* Less than 5 percent of the women involved in the study were black or Hispanics
* According to Dr Deanna Attai, a breast surgeon with UCLA Health in Los Angeles, the number of women who took part in the study is a minuscule percentage of the collective population of American breast cancer patients.
* Mehta, a board member of a non-profit advocacy group called Living Beyond Breast Cancer, said that the women who took part in the study were comparatively healthier than the average American woman.
The women who were subjected to the study were healthier in terms of body mass index and frequently exercised as compared to the average American woman.
“What if you’re obese? Does social support matter for them?” Mehta asked. “They didn’t answer that question.” The population studied doesn’t represent the overall population of American breast cancer patients in terms of health and demographics.
* Dr Deanna Attai observed that the study involved only the quantity of social relationships and not their qualitative factor. She went on to say that a woman suffering from breast cancer would worry more about cancer itself than the lack of her social ties.
“I’m a little cautious about making the conclusion that, if you don’t have many friends when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, you’d better go out and find some, or you’re not going to do well,” Attai said.
* Chen, on the other hand, believes that the study should encourage doctors to evaluate other factors and not just the patient’s health. She feels that asking about the patient’s social connectivity and support would provide doctors with a better insight into the patient’s ability to cope with the disease.