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Higher Mortality Rates for Socially Isolated Breast Cancer Survivors

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  • Social ties predicted the recurrence and survival outcomes for breast cancer survivors.
  • Socially isolated women had 40% higher risk of recurrence and 60% higher risk of dying from breast cancer.

Higher Mortality Rates for Socially Isolated Breast Cancer Survivors

Breast cancer survivors who were socially isolated had higher rates of recurrence and mortality, when compared to women with larger social networks who had better outcomes.

Some types of social ties and relationships benefited patients in certain racial or age groups, while others had no beneficial effects.


The study was conducted by Candyce Kroenke, MPH, ScD, of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California, and her colleagues.

How Social Network Affected Survival Rates

Researchers followed 9267 women with breast cancer to see how their social networks affected their survival within two years following their diagnosis.

There were 1448 cancer recurrences and 1521 deaths (990 from breast cancer), over a median follow-up of 10.6 years.

Socially isolated women had:
  • 40% higher risk of recurrence.
  • 60% higher risk of dying from breast cancer.
  • 70%higher risk of dying from any cause.
The associations of social network with survival and recurrence rate also varied with factors like-

With stage of cancer-Stronger in those with stage I/II cancer.

With age, race/ethnicity, and country of origin-- In non-white women, ties to relatives and friends predicted lower breast cancer-specific mortality. Having a spouse predicted lower breast cancer-specific mortality in older White women and social ties predicted better outcomes in older Whites and Asians.

"It is well established that larger social networks predict lower overall mortality in healthy populations and in breast cancer patients, but associations with breast cancer-specific outcomes like recurrence and breast cancer mortality have been mixed," said Dr. Kroenke.

"These findings, from a large pooled cohort of nearly 10,000 women with breast cancer, confirm the generally beneficial influence of women's social ties on breast cancer recurrence and mortality; however, they also point to complexity, that not all social ties are beneficial, and not in all women." Dr. Kroenke added.

There is a need for additional research to understand the mechanisms of how social networks influence the outcomes for breast cancer survivors to develop effective interventions.

The study is published online in the journal Cancer, peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.


  1. Candyce H. Kroenke et al. Post-diagnosis social networks and breast cancer mortality in the After Breast Cancer Pooling Project (ABCPP). Cancer; (2016) DOI: 10.1002/cncr.30440

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