Cancer survivors feel lonelier and have higher death risk

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A new study by the American Cancer Society (ACS) has uncovered a significant link between loneliness and increased mortality risk among cancer survivors.

Published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the research highlights the profound impact that emotional well-being has on physical health post-cancer.

The study focused on a group of cancer survivors aged 50 and older, using data from the Health and Retirement Study conducted between 2008 and 2018, with follow-ups for vital status extending through 2020.

Loneliness was assessed using a short form of the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which includes questions about feelings of isolation and lack of companionship.

The results revealed that higher levels of loneliness correlated with a greater risk of mortality. Specifically, those who reported the highest levels of loneliness had the most significant risk increase, even after adjusting for various sociodemographic factors.

The loneliness scores were divided into four categories from low to severe, with those in the severest category showing an adjusted hazard ratio for mortality of 1.67, indicating a 67% higher risk of death compared to those with low or no loneliness.

Jingxuan Zhao, senior associate scientist at the ACS and lead author of the study, emphasized the urgency of addressing loneliness among the growing population of cancer survivors in the U.S., which is projected to increase from 18 million to 22 million by 2030.

Zhao suggests that interventions such as mental health counseling, community support, and greater social network involvement should be integrated into cancer treatment and survivorship care programs to combat loneliness.

The study aligns with recent public health advisories, including one from the U.S. Surgeon General on the healing effects of social connections, which stress the negative impact of loneliness not just on individuals but also on public health at large.

Lisa A. Lacasse, president of the ACS Cancer Action Network, highlighted the importance of patient navigation services in cancer care.

These services provide crucial support throughout the diagnosis and treatment process, helping patients manage the social and emotional challenges of their condition.

According to Lacasse, ensuring that no one faces cancer alone is vital for both emotional well-being and improved health outcomes.

This research adds to a growing body of evidence that social factors such as loneliness significantly affect health outcomes, particularly among vulnerable populations like cancer survivors.

It underscores the need for healthcare systems to consider emotional and social support as critical components of effective healthcare.

The research findings can be found in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

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