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Social supports help breast cancer survival

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Breast cancer patients who have strong support after diagnosis likely live longer or have less risk of the cancer returning, a new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggests.

Researchers from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) and the Shanghai Institute of Preventive Medicine started in 2002 to recruit 2,230  breast cancer survivors whose disease was diagnosed within two years.

Participants were asked about physical issues, psychological well-being, social support and material well-being in a follow-up survey 36 months after diagnosis.

The results show six months after diagnosis, people having greater social well-being had a 38 percent reduction in risk of dying and 48 percent reduced risk of cancer recurrence.

"We found that social well-being in the first year after cancer diagnosis is an important prognostic factor for breast cancer recurrence or death," said Epplein. "This suggests that the opportunity exists for the design of treatment interventions to maintain or enhance social support soon after diagnosis to improve disease outcomes."

In 2007, 202,964 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,598 died from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Risk factors of breast cancer include aging, never giving birth, using birth control pills, drinking alcohol and not getting regular exercise among other things.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, regardless of race or ethnicity.  One in seven women in the U.S. are expected to develop the disease in their lifetime.  Although men also can get it, the chance is less than one out of hundred.

To avoid breast cancer, women should eat a healthy diet, control weight, exercise regularly, avoid using hormone-based therapy and limit the intake of alcohol, studies suggest.

Stephen Lau and editing by Aimee Keenan-Greene

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