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Breast Cancer Outcome Can Be Affected by Social Support

Last Updated: September 30, 2009.

Breast cancer patients who are socially isolated may be more likely to have tumor growth as a result of the stress caused by loneliness, compared to their more socially supported counterparts, according to a study in mice published online Sept. 29 in Cancer Prevention Research.

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Breast cancer patients who are socially isolated may be more likely to have tumor growth as a result of the stress caused by loneliness, compared to their more socially supported counterparts, according to a study in mice published online Sept. 29 in Cancer Prevention Research.

J. Bradley Williams, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Chicago, conducted a study in mice subjected to either group housing or total isolation from weaning onwards.

Compared with group-housed mice, those kept in social isolation had increased gene expression of genes that encoded important metabolic pathway enzymes in the premalignant mammary gland, and had up-regulated lipid synthesis and glycolic pathway gene expression, the researchers observed. The isolated mice went on to develop mammary gland tumors that were substantially larger than those in group-housed mice, and they also had a stronger corticosterone stress response.

"Understanding the specific molecular networks connecting an individual's environment with his or her physiologic stress response and, ultimately, with tissue gene expression favoring tumor growth is expected to uncover novel mechanisms promoting tumor growth in the context of specific environmental stressors," the authors write. "It is possible that the metabolic gene expression pathways identified in this study may also contribute to the mechanisms underlying the observation that patients with self-reported social isolation are at higher risk for diabetes and hypertension as well as cancer."

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