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Loneliness Linked to Higher Mortality Risk in Cancer Survivors, Study Finds

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New research results prove that among cancer survivors who have undergone treatment, those who often feel isolated have a more than 60% higher risk of death compared to survivors who feel less lonely or not at all.

An illustrative image to aid in understanding the article / Doidam 10-shutterstock.com

The team led by Jingxuan Zhao, a member of the American Cancer Society (ACS) conducted the research tracking the correlation between the degree of loneliness and the risk of death among 3,400 cancer survivors. The findings were published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (JNCCN).

Jinxuan Zhao pointed out the fact that cancer diagnosis and treatment can have a long-term negative impact on the health and social relationships of survivors leading to feelings of forlornness. She further mentioned, “Feeling abandoned is one of the most common worries among cancer survivors.” “We must take this significant matter seriously since there are more than 18 million cancer survivors in the United States, and that number is expected to rise to 22 million by 2030.”

For this study, the research team analyzed data from 3,447 cancer survivors aged 50 and above who participated in the Health and Retirement Study’s nationally representative panel survey from 2008 to 2018. The team used the UCLA Loneliness Scale to measure the degree of self-perceived forsakenness and tracked their survival status up to 2020.

The UCLA Loneliness Scale Version 3 awards 1-3 points for answers to various questions about one’s feelings of solitude.

The team calculated a total score by adding up the scores for each item and divided the participants into four groups (low/no loneliness, mild loneliness, moderate loneliness, severe loneliness) based on the total scores.

The results showed that 1,402 participants (24.3%) fell into the low/no loneliness group, 1,445 in the mild loneliness group, 1,418 in the moderate loneliness group, and 1,543 in the severe loneliness group.

During the total follow-up period of 5,808 person-years (one person-year is the observation of one person for one year), the analysis of mortality risk showed that survivors who reported feeling less or no loneliness had a lower risk of death compared to those who reported feeling a lot of loneliness. The risk of death increased as the level of lonesomeness increased. After adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, the group of survivors who felt the most loneliness had a 67% higher risk of death compared to the group who felt the least loneliness. “It is required to identify cancer survivors who feel lonely and provide social support to those who need it,” said Jinxuan Zhao. She suggested potential solutions for cancer survivors: mental health counseling, community support, social network involvement, and integrating such programs into cancer treatment and survivor management.

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