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A conceptual model of social networks and mechanisms of cancer mortality, and potential strategies to improve survival

Women with larger personal social networks have better breast cancer survival and a lower risk of mortality. However, little work has examined the mechanisms through which social networks influence breast cancer outcomes and cancer outcomes more generally, potentially limiting the development of feasible, clinically effective interventions. In fact, much of the emphasis in cancer research regarding the influence of social relationships on cancer outcomes has focused on the benefits of the provision of social support to patients, especially through peer support groups, and only more recently through patient navigation. Though critically important, there are other ways through which social relationships might influence outcomes, around which interventions might be developed. In addition to social support, these include social resources, social norms, social contagion, social roles, and social burdens and obligations. This narrative review addresses how social networks may influence cancer outcomes and discusses potential strategies for improving outcomes given these relationships. The paper (a) describes background and limitations of previous research, (b) outlines terms and provides a conceptual model that describes interrelationships between social networks and relevant variables and their hypothesized influence on cancer outcomes, (c) clarifies social and psychosocial mechanisms through which social networks affect downstream factors, (d) describes downstream behavioral, treatment, and physiological factors through which these subsequently influence recurrence and mortality, and (e) describes needed research and potential opportunities to enhance translation. Though most literature in this area pertains to breast cancer, this review has substantial relevance for cancer outcomes generally. Further clarification and research regarding potential mechanisms are needed to translate epidemiological findings on social networks into clinical and community strategies to improve cancer outcomes.

Authors: Kroenke CH

Transl Behav Med. 2018 07 17;8(4):629-642.

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