10 February 2020

Strong support network is key to women's cancer recovery

Findings of a new study support the idea that women who have supportive friends and family around them when they are diagnosed with cancer do better.

Older women with colon or rectal cancer are more likely to die early if they lack support from family, friends or others, a new study finds.

For the study, researchers looked at more than 1 400 postmenopausal women with colon or rectal cancer who were enrolled in the long-term US Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study.

Community involvement

Compared to those with strong social support, those with low support had a 52% higher risk of death from all causes and a 42% higher risk of death from colorectal cancer, the findings showed.

When the researchers delved into specific types of support, rates of death were higher when the women did not have emotional support; informational support; help with tasks, chores or other daily needs; or someone to have fun with and take their mind off their illness.

Having a partner or being involved with their community or in a religious organisation was associated with lower risk of death from rectal cancer, but not colon cancer.

And living alone was linked to a higher risk of death in patients with rectal cancer, according to the Kaiser Permanente study published recently in the journal Cancer.

"These findings support the idea that women who have supportive friends and family around them when they are diagnosed do better," said lead author Candyce Kroenke, of Kaiser's division of research.

Additional resources

The message to patients with a serious illness is to seek help.

"You can and should ask for support instead of going it alone," Kroenke said.

The findings are a reminder to health care providers that social support is an important factor in patient outcomes.

"Clinicians can identify patients who are at risk of low social support and provide them with additional resources," Kroenke said in a Kaiser Permanente news release.

Those resources could include a therapist to help patients deal with the emotional burden of cancer treatment, or social services to provide logistical support such as rides to medical appointments, Kroenke suggested.

Image credit: iStock


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