Cancer Is More Deadly to Lonely People

Most cancer survivors report feeling some level of loneliness, which increases their risk of mortality, a study found.

The mortality rates are the highest among cancer survivors reporting the highest levels of loneliness, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

“Loneliness, the feeling of being isolated, is a prevalent concern among cancer survivors as a cancer diagnosis and its subsequent treatment can result in long-term adverse health effects, which can negatively affect survivors’ social relationships and contribute to loneliness,” said Jingxuan Zhao, senior associate scientist, health services research at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study.

The study looked at the data of 3,447 cancer survivors aged 50 and older. Their loneliness was measured using an abbreviated version of the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which included items such as lacking companionship and feeling isolated from others.

Most participants reported suffering from loneliness, with 23.6% experiencing it at moderate and 27.6% at severe levels. Another 24.5% reported mild loneliness, and 24.3% of the participants said they did experience low levels or no loneliness.

Cancer survivors reporting more severe loneliness had higher mortality risk compared to survivors reporting low levels or no loneliness.

“Investing in patient navigation services is critical to helping ensure a better treatment experience and better health outcomes, including helping patients with social and emotional needs,” said Lisa A. Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), ACS’s advocacy affiliate.

Relationships with friends suffer the most

A 2023 survey of cancer patients and survivors revealed that over half of them experience an aspect of social isolation at least some of the time. Those who live alone, people of color, and have lower incomes report higher levels of loneliness.

Relationships with friends and coworkers are most often impeded by cancer, as patients feel more isolated from these groups. The respondents said that physical cancer-related symptoms, such as low energy or feeling uncomfortable with one’s appearance, have the most negative impact on social connection.

Meanwhile, the feeling of connection with their household members and extended family increases after hearing the cancer diagnosis. For two-thirds (68%), other cancer patients and survivors provide a sense of connection.

Fighting loneliness when you have cancer

Loneliness may persist even after cancer treatment ends, as survivors may have lost connections during this journey or have difficulty feeling “normal” and finding peers who can relate to their experiences.

You can reduce isolation by taking the following steps, according to City of Hope, a cancer center.

  • Be open and honest about your feelings.
  • Join a support group to connect with people who have similar experiences.
  • Participate in activities you enjoy to boost your mood and build your social network.
  • Consider seeking the support of an expert, like a psychologist or social worker.

Loneliness may increase the risk of cancer

While cancer often leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation, research suggests it may also work the other way around. A 2023 study found that American adults living alone had a 1.32 times higher risk of cancer death than adults living with others. The risk was even higher among males living in single households.

Moreover, loneliness is associated with a higher risk of conditions such as heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and premature death.


Leave a reply

Your email will not be published. All fields are required.