Social Connectedness May Improve Wellbeing in Young Cancer Survivors


Social isolation has become prominent among young cancer survivors, though social connectedness may be beneficial to wellbeing, a recent study showed.

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Social isolation is an issue for many young cancer survivors, and it may have an impact on their overall wellbeing.

Increased levels of social isolation are prominent among young adult cancer survivors and can be detrimental to overall wellbeing, while social connectedness proved to be beneficial for this population, according to recent research published in the journal, Cancer.

Approximately 80,000 young adults (ranging from ages 18 to 39) are diagnosed with cancer every year. This can immensely affect a young adult’s well-being, mentally, physically and emotionally, with social isolation and connection playing a major role.

“We took a really broad approach to defining these constructs, because they're not measured directly, or they're not always called ‘social isolation’ in (research), even though they might be measuring something closely related to it.,” study author Dr. Rina Fox, Assistant Professor at The University of Arizona College of Nursing, told CURE®.

Fox and her team conducted a review of 44 previously published research articles to evaluate social isolation and social connectedness to determine, “the prevalence of social isolation and connectedness (i.e., how commonly they are experienced); clinical and sociodemographic correlates of social isolation and connectedness; and relationships of social isolation and connectedness with psychological well-being,” according to the study.

Articles consisted of those about young cancer survivors within the ages of 18-39, in which social isolation, social connectedness and related topics were evaluated. Qualitative studies, which consisted of interviews and focus groups and conversational-type data, were also included.

“We included both the qualitative data that assess these constructs as well as the survey or quantitative studies that assess these constructs. And we tried to look at are they finding the same things? Are they making the same conclusions about these questions that they were asking using these various tools? And that can be really useful for looking across these different types of data collection. Are we finding similar results?” study author, Dr. Laura Oswald, Assistant Member at Moffitt Cancer Center, explained in an interview with CURE®.

Overall, social isolation was correlated with poor psychological well-being, while social connectedness benefitted psychological well-being. Risk factors for social isolation were having young children, greater symptom burden and being in health care settings, while protective factors (those that were correlated with less isolation) were being female, married and in school or work.

In particular, some data showed that young adults reported a closer relationship with family and friends before being diagnosed, while others found that cancer positively impacted important relationships. In general, young adult cancer survivors reported average-to-elevated levels of social support.

“Young adulthood on its own is a really challenging time in a person's life, there's a lot of changes that are happening. You're going through school, you're starting your career, you're building a family, you're establishing your independence. And when you add cancer, to that experience it can create a lot of challenges for the individual. It can delay a lot of things that typically happen during that time,” Oswald explained.

Some of the articles they evaluated also concluded that support groups and time with peers raised social connectedness within young adults.

“That was one of the big take homes – finding opportunities for peer connection can be really impactful, but it needs to be done in a way that's appropriate for this population,” Fox told CURE®.

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