According to new research conducted by the National Human Genome Research Institute and the University of Oxford which has looked into the social habits – or lack of them – of cancer patients – those that get out and mingle with other people with cancer have better survival prospects than those who do not interact with other sufferers.
The study analysed electronic medical records from 4,691 cancer patients collected between 2000 and 2009 from two major NHS hospitals, an investigation of the time that patients spent with other patients and their five-year survival rate post-chemotherapy was also examined. All patients were undergoing chemotherapy at the time and the average age was 59.8.
You are not alone
The results? Patients undergoing chemotherapy who socialise with other sufferers have a 68 per cent risk of dying within five years, the research claimed. This is compared to a 69.5 per cent risk if patients are isolated from other sufferers during their treatment.
The differences may be slender but, as lead author Jeff Lienert from the National Human Genome Research Institute pointed out, “a two per cent difference in survival might not sound like a lot, but it’s pretty substantial. If you saw 5,000 patients in nine years, that two per cent improvement would affect 100 people.”
So why is there a difference between those who socialise with people under the same predicament, and those who don’t? The researchers behind the study believe that interacting with others during treatment reduces stress levels, which in turn leads to better prospects of survival.
As Mr Lienert said: “When you’re stressed, stress hormones such as adrenaline are released, resulting in a fight or flight response. If you are then unable to fight or fly – such as in chemotherapy – these hormones can build up.”
Don’t skimp on your social life
Furthermore, the researchers claim that visits from non-cancer sufferers has a similar – and possibly even greater – impact on patient survival.
“Positive social support during the exact moments of greatest stress is crucial,” claimed Mr Lienert. “If you have a friend with cancer, keeping him or her company during chemotherapy probably will help reduce their stress. The impact is likely to be as effective, and possibly more effective, than cancer patients interacting with other cancer patients.”
The idea that social interaction can help people undergoing cancer treatment is nothing new, of course: a 2012 study found that patients that maintained strong social ties to family and friends may be better to cope with their struggle physically and mentally, while cutting back on social interaction whilst undergoing treatment could increase the risk of depression.
It’s obviously not possible to continue exactly as normal when undergoing chemo but life as you know it shouldn’t stop completely. You might just need to plan ahead a bit more:
- if you have an important event coming up, such as a family wedding or anniversary celebration, speak to your specialist about the planning of your chemotherapy sessions
- rest during the day to have more energy in the evening
- take anti-sickness tables if a celebratory meal has been planned
- small amounts of alcohol shouldn’t compromise your chemotherapy but check with your GP first
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