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Relationship With Partner Affects Outcomes for Breast Cancer Survivors
  • Posted April 22, 2024

Relationship With Partner Affects Outcomes for Breast Cancer Survivors

A strong relationship can help a breast cancer survivor thrive in the aftermath of their terrible ordeal, a new study finds.

Diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer places tremendous stress on the women and their partners, researchers said.

Those women in a solid relationship with their partner tend to have less depression and fatigue following their treatment, as well as better physical functioning, the study results show.

For example, they were better able to carry groceries, walk around the block and perform other typical day-to-day tasks, researchers found.

On the other hand, weaker relationships were associated with poor emotional and physical outcomes for breast cancer survivors.

“How the breast cancer survivor and partner communicated and handled stressful events, particularly those related to breast cancer, were linked to emotional and physical health for the survivor, with better agreement related to better outcomes,” said lead study author Eric Vachon. He's a research scientist with the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Nursing.

However, part of the strength of a relationship rests on a shared understanding between the partners, the study also found.

Couples where one person rated the relationship more highly than their partner tended to reap worse outcomes, results show.

“Interestingly, breast cancer survivors who rated their relationship satisfaction as high did not necessarily have better agreement with their partner or better well-being than those survivors who viewed their relationship less positively,” Vachon said. “It's the communication and relationship between the survivor and partner that are determinant.”

For the study, researchers analyzed survey data from 387 couples, including 220 couples with a breast cancer survivor and 167 with no breast cancer. The average age of study participants was mid-40s.

“We knew from the literature that breast cancer survivors' rating of their relationship satisfaction is linked with some poor physical and emotional outcomes,” Vachon said in an institute news release.

“We took that knowledge to the next level and combined the breast cancer survivors' and partners' views of relationship satisfaction and relationship agreement and determined impact on survivors' health,” he added.

The satisfaction that breast cancer survivors had with their relationship was significantly associated with better physical function, ability to focus and sleep quality.

The findings were published recently in a special issue of the journal Healthcare.

“This work points to the critical importance of both members of the couple focusing on strengthening the relationship,” Vachon said. “Difficulties among couples can have devastating effects for your physical and emotional health.”

More information

Susan G. Komen has more on social support during breast cancer treatment.

SOURCE: Regenstrief Institute, news release, April 18, 2024

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