A new study has discovered that breast cancer patients may be better able to deal with pain and other physical symptoms when they can have fun with friends and family.
Patients with advanced disease benefited from what the study authors called “tangible support” – help with household chores and errands, including rides for doctor and treatment appointments.
"Have some fun during cancer treatment."
The study, led by Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH, staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, examined the impact of various types of social support on quality of life and physical outcomes.
"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 quality of life after a breast cancer diagnosis," Dr. Kroenke said in a prepared statement.
The study involved 3,139 women diagnosed between 2006 and 2011 with invasive breast cancer. The researchers looked at associations between social support and quality of life.
Social networks included four elements: a spouse or intimate partner, the number of close friends and relatives, religious/social ties and community ties.
The types of social support were described as tangible, emotional/informational, affection and positive social interaction (fun).
Within about 60 days of diagnosis, study participants completed several questionnaires about their social ties, the kind of support they received, their emotional and physical quality of life and cancer-related physical symptoms they experienced.
Women who said they had friends with whom they could have fun, relax and let go reported the best overall quality of life.
Breast cancer expert Christopher O. Ruud, MD, of Austin Cancer Centers, told dailyRx News, “The idea that friendship lightens the burden of cancer makes common sense and warms the heart.”
The authors wrote that “…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 have this positive support were three times more likely to indicate a poor quality of life and more physical symptoms.
Similarly, women with late-stage breast cancer who had tangible support with day-to-day activities reported better quality of life. Women without this kind of help were 2.74 times more likely to rate their quality of life as below average.
This study – called the Pathways study – and an additional study based at the Division of Research called LACE (Life After Cancer Epidemiology) are continuing to gather and analyze data among women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
The studies are looking at women's genetic background, tumor characteristics and lifestyle choices immediately after diagnosis.
This study was published May 8 in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. No author disclosed potential conflicts of interest.