Strong social connections have been tied to happier, healthier and longer lives.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists wanted to understand the social networks of young cancer survivors. So they developed a new way to measure social networks. The method looked at six factors, including whether networks provided practical and emotional support or advice about staying fit and avoiding weight gain.
Researchers used the method to evaluate the social networks of adolescent and young adult cancer survivors and their peers who were not cancer survivors. The study participants were recruited from a national online survey panel. The St. Jude method was better than traditional methods at predicting an ability to cope with life’s challenges.
The method also revealed that cancer survivors overall had stronger social networks than their non-cancer peers. But social networks differed by diagnosis. Lymphoma survivors had the highest-ranked networks. Brain tumor survivors had the weakest, even significantly weaker than their peers.
“Teens and young adults are in the process of establishing their independence,” said I-Chan Huang, PhD, of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control. “Previous studies have shown that young cancer survivors are more likely to struggle mentally and physically.
“We need a better understanding of the connection between social networks and health so we can develop ways to help the growing number of survivors make the most of life.”
The research appeared in the journal Cancer.