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High-Quality Personal Relationships Linked to Increased Rate of Breast Cancer Survivals

Update Date: Nov 11, 2012 05:11 AM EST

A new study states that women who have breast cancer have a higher chance of survival if they have high-quality personal relationships.

Previous studies done on breast cancer have found that women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to survive if they have a larger personal network of friends, relations, spouses or partners and other religious ties. However, a new study says that the quality of these relationships is also important for the survival of a woman suffering from breast cancer.

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"We found that women with small social networks had a significantly higher risk of mortality than those with large networks," said Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, and lead author of the study.

The study found that socially isolated women were 34 percent more likely to die from breast cancer or other causes than socially integrated women. Specifically, larger social networks were "unrelated to recurrence or breast cancer mortality, (they) were associated with lower mortality from all causes," the authors wrote.

The study included instructing the women participants to fill out a survey which asked them to rate their relationship quality on a scale of 5. For example, the questions included, "My family has accepted my illness", "family communication about my illness is poor", and "I feel distant from my friends". Based on the survey results, the women were additionally characterized as having high or low levels of social support.

"Women with small networks and high levels of support were not at greater risk than those with large networks, but those with small networks and low levels of support were," Kroenke said. "In fact, women with small networks and low levels of support were 61 percent more likely to die from breast cancer and other causes than those with small networks and high levels of support."

"We also found that when family relationships were less supportive, community and religious ties were critical to survival. This suggests that both the quality of relationships, rather than just the size of the network, matters to survival, and that community relationships matter when relationships with friends and family are less supportive."

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