Having fun with family and friends can help relieve breast cancer patients' pain and improve their quality of life, a new study indicates.
The study included more than 3,100 women in California who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2006 and 2011. Within about two months of their diagnosis, they completed questionnaires on their social networks, the kinds of support they received, their emotional and physical quality of life, and their physical symptoms from breast cancer.
Women with the largest social networks were most likely to report the best overall quality of life during breast cancer treatment. Higher levels of social support were also linked with better emotional quality of life, according to the Kaiser Permanente researchers.
Having family and friends to do fun things with (positive social interaction) was the most important predictor of good physical quality of life. Patients with little or no positive social interaction were three times more likely to report a low quality of life and more physical symptoms, the investigators found.
The study also found that the benefits of tangible support from others -- such as doing household chores, bringing food or providing transportation to the doctor -- were strongest among women with late-stage breast cancer. Those with low levels of tangible support were nearly three times more likely to have a lower-than-average quality of life.
The study was published May 9 in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
"This study provides research-based evidence that social support helps with physical symptoms," study author Candyce Kroenke, a staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente division of research, said in a Kaiser news release. "Social support mechanisms matter in terms of physical outcomes."
Each year in the United States, about 230,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and, in 2012, there were about 2.9 million breast cancer survivors. The fact that more women are being cured of breast cancer increases the importance of quality of life after diagnosis, Kroenke said.