The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Social support and breast cancer survival

This summary table contains detailed information about research studies. Summary tables are a useful way to look at the science behind many breast cancer guidelines and recommendations. However, to get the most out of the tables, it’s important to understand some key concepts. Learn how to read a research table.

Introduction: People get social support through interactions with other people, including their family, friends and co-workers. 

There is growing evidence social support increases quality of life after breast cancer. However, it remains unclear whether it improves survival.

Randomized controlled trials don’t show a survival benefit from support groups for women diagnosed with breast cancer (see Table 52).

However, some large prospective cohort studies suggest women with more social support have better survival.

The differences in results may be due to the types of social support studied.

Cohort studies have mostly studied the social support people get from social networks, such as friends and family. Randomized trials have mostly studied social support from strangers, such as support groups.

Further studies are needed to know whether there is a difference between these two kinds of social support and breast cancer survival.

Study selection criteria: Prospective cohort studies with at least 200 participants and meta-analyses.

Study

Study Population
(number of participants)

Follow-up
(years)

Better Survival for Women with Breast Cancer Who Had the Most Social Support Compared to Those Who Had the Least?

Yes / No

Prospective cohort studies

Kroenke et al. [1]

2,835

6

Yes

Kroenke et al. [2]

 2,264

11

Yes*

Epplein et al. [3]

2,230

5

Yes

Reynolds et al. [4]

1,011

5

Yes

Phillips et al. [5]

708

8

No

Chou et al. [6]

584

10

Yes

De Aguiar et al. [7]

544

2

No

Jatoi et al. [8]

331

15

No

Maunsell et al. [9]

224

7

No

Meta-analyses

Kroenke et al. [10]

3 cohort studies

Various

Yes†

* Findings showed women with higher levels of social support had lower rates of death due to any cause compared to women with lower levels of social support. Rates of death due to breast cancer were similar between the groups.

† A fourth cohort study in this meta-analysis found no difference in breast cancer survival between women with and without social support. 

References 

  1. Kroenke CH, Kubzansky LD, Schernhammer ES, Holmes MD, Kawachi I. Social networks, social support, and survival after breast cancer diagnosis. J Clin Oncol. 24(7):1105-11, 2006.
  2. Kroenke CH, Quesenberry C, Kwan ML, Sweeney C, Castillo A, Caan BJ. Social networks, social support, and burden in relationships, and mortality after breast cancer diagnosis in the Life After Breast Cancer Epidemiology (LACE) Study. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 137(1):261-71, 2013.
  3. Epplein M, Zheng Y, Zheng W, et al. Quality of life after breast cancer diagnosis and survival. J Clin Oncol. 29(4):406-12, 2011.
  4. Reynolds P, Boyd PT, Blacklow RS, et al. The relationship between social ties and survival among black and white breast cancer patients. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 3: 253-259, 1994.
  5. Phillips KA, Osborne RH, Giles GG, et al. Psychosocial factors and survival of young women with breast cancer: a population-based prospective cohort study. J Clin Oncol. 26(28):4666-71, 2008.
  6. Chou AF, Stewart SL, Wild RC, Bloom JR. Social support and survival in young women with breast carcinoma. Psychooncology. 21(2):125-33, 2012.
  7. De Aguiar SS, Bergmann A, Mattos IE. Quality of life as a predictor of overall survival after breast cancer treatment. Qual Life Res. 23(2):627-37, 2014.
  8. Jatoi A, Muss H, Allred JB, et al. Social support and its implications in older, early-stage breast cancer patients in CALGB 49907 (Alliance A171301). Psychooncology. 25(4):441-6, 2016.
  9. Maunsell E, Brisson J, Deschenes L. Social support and survival among women with breast cancer. Cancer. 76(4): 631-637, 1995.
  10. Kroenke CH, Michael YL, Poole EM, et al. Postdiagnosis social networks and breast cancer mortality in the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project. Cancer. 123(7):1228-1237.

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