Positive Social Support Reduces Health-Related Anxiety in Cancer Survivors

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among women throughout the world. This life-changing diagnosis can lead to significant changes both emotionally and physically. Women who are diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, whether through radiation and chemotherapy or through mastectomy, must deal with radical changes to their physical appearance and health. The emotional toll of experiencing these types of changes can be intense. After treatment, women are often hypersensitive to the recurrence of breast cancer and can become worried and fearful that that the cancer will return. In such stressful times, it is imperative that women be able to rely on the support of friends and family members. Having someone to discuss fears and concerns with provides these women the opportunity to divulge their apprehensions and receive unbiased feedback. Women who do not have adequate social support may internalize their fears and develop increased levels of anxiety and depression relating to their illness.

Positive social support increases personal well-being in nearly every context. However, when emotional needs are elevated, the importance of positive social support is also elevated. Shannon L. Jones of the Department of Psychology at the University of Regina in Canada sought to determine how social support affected the well-being of women after a diagnosis of breast cancer. She looked specifically at how perceived levels of supportive or unsupportive social connections influenced depression, anxiety, and other cancer-related health issues in 131 women who had received a breast cancer diagnosis during the last 10 years.

Jones analyzed data gathered from internet surveys completed by the women and found that the biggest predictor of increased health anxiety was unsupportive or negative social connections. In particular, the women reported that they believed their fears and concerns were being dismissed or discounted when their social network gave them negative feedback. This directly increased the level of fear the women felt and caused them to become more preoccupied with their bodies. In contrast, women who reported high levels of perceived support had low levels of depression and health anxiety. This finding suggests that these women benefited from being able to disclose their concerns and receive validation from others. Jones added, “The results underscore the importance of social support to health anxiety and highlight a need to assess social factors when assessing and treating health anxiety in this population.”

Jones, S. L., Hadjistavropoulos, H. D., Sherry, S. B. (2012). Health anxiety in women with early-stage breast cancer: What is the relationship to social support? Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 44.2, 108-116.

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  • Connie b

    Connie b

    May 17th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    For any of us I think that the more we can share with others and get positive feedback about, then the better most of us feel about the illnesses that we face in life. If you surround yourself with others who are positve then this generally will rub off on you too. The power of positive thinking either by you or others around you can be so important to survival especially when you are fighting something like cancer.

  • Kourtney


    May 17th, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    It’s always nice to have a friend around when you are in need.

  • jackie ross

    jackie ross

    May 18th, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    Why do you think that there are so many different support groups for every ailment under the sun? Because it was recognized a long time ago that with people around us who empathize with what we are going through and who may indeed be a survivor themselves, it gives patients the hope and courage that they need to really put up a fight. Those who are alone may not have that tendency to fight- many times they could just give up. But those support groups can help to quell that urge and encourage you to keep going even if you don’t think that it’s possible anymore. I would encourage anyone who is fighting against cancer or addiction to find a group like this to get involved with and to become a part of. You will never know support until you have felt the love that those friends will extend to you.

  • lola


    May 19th, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    At some point in time most cancer survivors will get this feeling that they’re not going to survive this thing, that they are too far gone to be helped.
    What we most need when we get down like this is someone or a group of someones who will cheer us on.
    Do you feel better when someone is just going about their everyday lives or do you feel better when there is someone who will make a conscious effort to make you smile?
    I want there to be with me that love that we all want to feel, and there is no better time than this to share that with someone who needs that little pick me up in the worst way.

  • Janna G

    Janna G

    May 21st, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    What I always find the most amazing about cancer stories and survivors is just how much love and support that they get from outside their own family. With breast cancer for example there are tons of resources and contacts that women and men both can pull from in order to learn more about the disease and the ways that they survived their own bout with cancer. It’s just such an awesome feeling that you have people rooting for you who don’t even really know you!

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