Social networks and survival: Social ties could help with cancer management

November 21, 2017

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital led by Ying Bao, MD, ScD, an epidemiologist in BWH's Channing Division of Network Medicine and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, have found that women with stronger social networks had better survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis and conclude that social network strengthening could be a tool for management of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed and second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. At current rates, approximately 5% of individuals will develop a cancer of the colon or rectum within their lifetime. Though social network research has been done in other diseased populations, very few studies have examined the association between social network and survival in varying cancer sites.

The team utilized data from 896 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study and had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1992 and 2012. Social integration was assessed every four years during that time using the Berkman-Syme Social Networks Index; the value scale accounts for factors like marital status, social network size, contact frequency and religious or social group participation. This helped organize a patient rating system that identified patients on a range from socially isolated to socially integrated.

The findings indicated that, overall, women with high levels of social integration before a colorectal cancer diagnosis had significantly reduced risk of all-cause and colorectal cancer-specific mortality, particularly among older women. Though the number of extended ties (religious or social group participation) weren't associated with survival, the presence of more intimate ties (family and friends) was associated with a significantly lower death rate.

"When a patient is diagnosed, health care providers can look to the patient's social network to see if it provides necessary resources or whether outside help might be something to consider," said Bao who is also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. "That could be assistance from social workers, for example, to ensure access to care. For physicians, portions of a care plan aimed at strengthening a patient's social network can be valuable tools that haven't always been considered in the past."

Due to the complexity of network interactions, there are many pathways through which social networks could cause improved survival among cancer patients. Some prior research indicates that higher levels of social integration are associated with lower levels of inflammation and thus disease progression; other studies indicate it relates to a reduction in psychological stress and poor health behaviors that may contribute to cancer progression. Support from social networks, such as assistance in getting to medical appointments, reminders to take medications, and help with nutrition and mobility, may also explain the observed association. Future investigations are required to understand how these factors are influencing different kinds of patients and their care plans.
-end-
The Nurses' Health Study is supported by NIH grants UM1CA186107 and P01CA87969. Dr. Bao is supported by NIH grants KL2TR001100 and P30DK046200, and by Department of Defense grant CA150357. Dr. Fuchs is supported by NIH grants P30CA016359, R01CA169141, R01CA118553, and by Stand-Up-to-Cancer.

Paper Cited: Sarma, E et al. "Social Integration and Survival after Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis" Cancer DOI:10.1002/cncr.31117/full

Brigham and Women's Hospital

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.