A romantic healthy relationship boosts keeps each one of us in a good emotional state. For breast cancer survivors this is extremely significant. According to research, breast cancer survivors in romantic relationships who feel happy and satisfied with their partners may be at lower risk for a host of health problems. It helps them lower psychological stress and lower markers for inflammation in the blood.
The results imply that women who were happy in their relationships also expressed less psychological stress, and these two characteristics were linked to decreased blood signs for inflammation. However, the relationship itself wasn’t the cure-all.
Keeping inflammation away is the key to promoting health
According to studies, the secret to enhancing health in general and breast cancer survivors in particular is to keep inflammation at bay. Inflammation aids in the healing process when we are ill or damaged. On the other hand, survivors are more susceptible to other diseases and cancer recurrence because of chronically high inflammation.
“It’s important for survivors when they’re going through this uncertain time, to feel comfortable with their partners and feel cared for and understood, and also for their partners to feel comfortable and share their own concerns,” said Rosie Shrout, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar in the Institute for Behavioural Medicine Research at The Ohio State University.
“Our findings suggest that this close partnership can boost their bond as a couple and also promote survivors’ health even during a very stressful time when they’re dealing with cancer.”
The research is published online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Assessing fatigue and immune function in breast cancer survivors
Relationship scientist Shrout is employed by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, head of the Institute for Behavioural Medicine Research and professor of psychology and psychiatry, in her lab. Shrout evaluated fatigue and immunological function in breast cancer survivors by secondary analysing data from an earlier Kiecolt-Glaser study.
At three different visits—during recruiting, one to three months after receiving a cancer diagnosis, and at two follow-up visits, six and eighteen months following the completion of cancer treatment—the 139 women, whose average age was fifty-nine, filled out self-report questionnaires and donated blood.
According to one survey, relationship satisfaction was measured by asking women to rate their overall contentment, degree of happiness and degree of warmth and comfort they felt with their partner. Their perceived level of psychological stress throughout the preceding week was assessed using the other questionnaire.
Satisfied relationships lowered perceived stress and inflammation
Blood samples were examined by researchers to determine the concentrations of four proteins that, even in the absence of an immunological response, stimulate inflammation throughout the body. This type of persistent inflammation has been connected to a host of health issues, including as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and aging-related frailty and functional decline.
The results revealed a distinct pattern among the women as a whole: the less stressed and inflammatory the women felt in their romantic relationships, the more content they felt with them.
Researchers were able to assess changes in each lady individually and compare the group of women to one another according to the study’s design.
“This gave us a unique perspective — we found that when a woman was particularly satisfied with her relationship, she had lower stress and lower inflammation than usual — lower than her own average,” Shrout said. “At a specific visit, if she was satisfied with her partner, her own inflammation was lower at that visit than at a different visit when she was less satisfied.”
Importance of fostering survivor’s relationships
According to Shrout, the study implies that medical personnel who treat patients with breast cancer should be on the lookout for any indications that their patients are having difficulties at home.
“The research shows the importance of fostering survivors’ relationships. Some survivors might need help connecting with their partners during a stressful time, so that means it’s important for part of their screening and treatment to take the relationship into account and include a reference to couples counselling when appropriate,” she said. “Doing so could promote their health over the long run.”
Shrout stated that although the study’s results were specific to breast cancer survivors, having a solid romantic relationship would probably help patients cope with the uncertainty that comes with other catastrophic illnesses by reducing stress.
The story of the relationship has several facets: Prior research conducted under the direction of this study’s principal author, Kiecolt-Glaser, has demonstrated that marital conflict can have a negative impact on health. Additionally, solitary breast cancer survivors might find it helpful to lean on their support system of friends and family.
“Some of the research would suggest it’s better to be alone than in a troubled relationship,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “A good marriage offers good support, but the broader message for a breast cancer survivor who is not married is to seek support in other relationships.
“In general, one thing that happens when people are stressed is we tend to isolate ourselves, so seeking support when we’re stressed is one of the more beneficial things that people can do.”
Materials provided by Ohio State University. Original written by Emily Caldwell. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
M. Rosie Shrout, Megan E. Renna, Annelise A. Madison, Catherine M. Alfano, Stephen P. Povoski, Adele M. Lipari, Doreen M. Agnese, Lisa D. Yee, William E. Carson, Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser. Relationship satisfaction predicts lower stress and inflammation in breast cancer survivors: A longitudinal study of within-person and between-person effects. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2020; 118: 104708 DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104708
Ohio State University. “A satisfying romantic relationship may improve breast cancer survivors’ health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 June 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200603194436.htm>.
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