Breast Cancer Patients May Find Comfort From Laughter With Friends
May 9, 2013

Breast Cancer Patients May Find Comfort From Laughter With Friends

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

A new study from health insurance provider Kaiser Permanente has found that laughter, when shared with friends, really is the best medicine.

According to the firm's research, breast cancer patients who have “positive social interactions” amongst friends are better equipped to endure the pain and other physical symptoms associated with the disease. Women with the largest social networks and the highest amount of social interaction reported higher quality of life and a better emotional quality of life. The study is available in the latest edition of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

“This study provides research-based evidence that social support helps with physical symptoms,” said lead author Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH, staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. “Social support mechanisms matter in terms of physical outcomes.”

This study, the first of its kind, goes beyond measuring the emotional support of a strong social network and even observes the effects of tangible support from these networks, which includes helping out with household chores or running errands.

“While hundreds of studies have examined the role of factors influencing cancer risk and prevention, this study is one of a small but growing number that focus on quality of life after a breast cancer diagnosis,” said Kroenke.

This study was performed as a part of the larger pathways study which investigated the best diets, exercise and remedies for breast cancer patients. Kroenke surveyed the same 3,139 female participants in the pathways study to conduct her research. Each of these women was diagnosed with breast cancer between 2006 and 2011. Shortly after their diagnoses, Kroenke and team asked these women to answer questions about their social networks, including their friends and relatives, intimate relationships, and social and religious ties. The women also answered questions about the kinds of support they received from the people in their life as well as their symptoms and their quality of life, both physical and emotional.

Kroenke found that those women who were most engaged in social interaction and therefore had larger social networks were more likely to report a higher quality of life during their treatments. The study also found that those women who had friends who were willing to do more things together were more likely to have higher quality of life and a better emotional quality of life. The inverse was also true – those women with little social interaction and small networks reported lower quality of life and were more likely to experience pain throughout their treatments.

Those women who were in the later stages of breast cancer were found to receive a large benefit from their friends helping them out around the house or running errands and cooking food for them. Again, those women who received little to no help around the house experienced a lesser quality of life than the others.

“Positive social interaction was significantly related to every quality-of-life measure,” writes Kroenke in her published paper.

“Given that this dimension was determined by the availability of someone with whom to have fun, relax and get one´s mind off things for a while, it is possible that positive social interaction may enable women to forget for a while the distress of being a cancer patient, and the physiologic effects last beyond the actual interaction,” she adds.

Some 230,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the US, according to Kaiser Permanente´s data. Fortunately, there are also a reported 2.9 million survivors living in the US as of 2012. This, says Kroenke, makes it all the more important for patients to increase their quality of life.