How can Sharing Love and Support help me? What the research says

How does Sharing Love and Support impact your cancer outcomes, affect your quality of life, or impact your body terrain? We present the evidence.

We emphasize that Sharing Love and Support by itself will not prevent, cure, or control cancer. Like every other therapy or practice included on this website, Sharing Love and Support is one component of an individualized integrative plan rather than a stand-alone therapy.

We summarize the clinical evidence for each medical benefit here. We begin with our assessment of the strength of evidence within each category, followed by a brief summary of individual studies or reviews of several studies. In assessing the strength of evidence, we consider the study design, number of participants, and the size of the treatment effect (how much outcomes changed with treatment).

Learn more about how we research and rate therapies.

Treating cancer

Is Sharing Love and Support linked to improved survival? Is it linked to less cancer growth or metastasis? Does it enhance the anticancer action or other treatments or therapies? We present the evidence.

Cancer as a whole

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed RCTs, or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better cancer survival among men who are married, partnered, or have more social connections

Breast cancer

Good evidencesignificant effects in one large or several mid-sized and well-designed clinical studies (RCTs with an appropriate placebo or other strong comparison control or observational studies that control for confounds) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better survival among people with breast cancer with higher levels of social support

Good evidence of greater adherence to breast cancer treatment among people with higher levels of social support; our note: adherence to treatment is not a direct measure of anticancer action, but we include it here because any factor that increases adherence to anticancer treatment contributes to the direct action of that treatment

Ovarian cancer

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of slightly better survival among women with ovarian cancer with higher levels of social support

Prostate cancer

Good evidence of less advanced prostate cancer at diagnosis and better survival among married men

Preliminary evidence of lower prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels—a marker of potential cancer activity—among men in an intervention including social support and other lifestyle behaviors

Optimizing your body terrain

Does Sharing Love and Support promote an environment within your body that is less supportive of cancer development, growth or spread? We present the evidence.

Body weight

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of more abdominal fat—a factor linked to some types of cancer—among women with lower levels of perceived social support

Immune function

Preliminary evidence of better markers of immune function among people with social support

Other terrain factors

Preliminary evidence of lower levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)—released by cells to create a blood supply, and necessary to enable tumor growth—among people with higher levels of social well-being and higher levels among people experiencing loneliness

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

Is Sharing Love and Support linked to fewer or less severe side effects or symptoms? Is it linked to less toxicity from cancer treatment? Does it support your quality of life or promote general well-being? We present the evidence.

Side effects as a whole

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of a higher risk of more severe side effects among single people with colorectal cancer compared to married or partnered people

Anxiety

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less anxiety among people with colorectal cancer with more social support

Depression

Modest evidence of less depression or hopelessness among people with higher levels of social support

Fatigue

Preliminary evidence of higher levels of a symptom cluster including fatigue among people with cancer experiencing loneliness

Pain

Preliminary evidence of higher levels of a symptom cluster including pain among people with cancer experiencing loneliness

Psychological symptoms as a whole

Good evidencesignificant effects in one large or several mid-sized and well-designed clinical studies (randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with an appropriate placebo or other strong comparison control or observational studies that control for confounds) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better psychological and mental health among people with cancer with higher levels of social support

Quality of life and function

Good evidence of better health among people in a supportive relationship with a spouse

Modest evidence of better quality of life or well-being among people with higher levels of social support

Stress or distress

Good evidence of less distressemotional, social, spiritual, or physical pain or suffering that may cause a person to feel sad, afraid, depressed, anxious, or lonely; people in distress may also feel that they are not able to manage or cope with changes caused by normal life activities or by having a disease, such as cancer among people with higher levels of social support

Modest evidence of fewer symptoms of posttraumatic stress and more posttraumatic growthpositive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges among adults with cancer with higher levels of social support

Symptoms not specific to cancer

Modest evidence of less depression among people with higher levels of social support

Reducing cancer risk

Is Sharing Love and Support linked to lower risks of developing cancer or of recurrence? We present the evidence.

Cancer as a whole

Good evidencesignificant effects in one large or several mid-sized and well-designed clinical studies (randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with an appropriate placebo or other strong comparison control or observational studies that control for confounds) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of higher risk of cancer and cancer mortality among people with lower levels of social support, with some differences between men and women and between white and black Americans

Breast cancer

No evidenceoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. of a higher risk of breast cancer among women experiencing widowhood or divorce in a combined analysis of studies

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of increased risk of breast cancer among people with inadequate social support

Colorectal cancer

Modest evidence of higher risk of colorectal cancer and mortality among people with low levels of social support, but only among men

Melanoma and other skin cancers

Modest evidence of somewhat higher mortality within 5 years among people with melanoma experiencing bereavement

Prostate cancer

Modest evidence of higher risk of prostate cancer among married men compared to unmarried men; the study researchers suggest that married men may be supported to seek health care more than unmarried men, leading to a greater chance of diagnosis. Our note: This interpretation is consistent with evidence reported above that married men tend to be diagnosed at earlier stages of cancer and to survive longer after diagnosis.

How Sharing Love and Support relates to other practices and factors in cancer

Eating Well

For many people, sharing food preparation and meals—making them social activities—makes them more pleasurable and may help a person with cancer enjoy eating even when their appetite is low. Eating food in pleasant company may also improve digestion and absorption of nutrients. 

Moving More

For many people, sharing a physical activity—whether a yoga class, a walk on the beach, or dancing—with a loved one makes the activity a social event and often more pleasurable. Social physical activity may help a person with cancer enjoy Moving More even when their energy level is low. Practicing with a “purpose partner” may increase the likelihood that a person will maintain physical activity.

Managing Stress

Sharing Love and Support is connected to Managing Stress. Loneliness and isolation are stressors. Feeling supported and loved can help you manage these stressors.

Less distressemotional, social, spiritual, or physical pain or suffering that may cause a person to feel sad, afraid, depressed, anxious, or lonely; people in distress may also feel that they are not able to manage or cope with changes caused by normal life activities or by having a disease, such as cancer among people with higher levels of social support (good evidence)

Fewer symptoms of posttraumatic stress and more posttraumatic growthpositive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges among adults with cancer with higher levels of social support (modest evidence)

Creating a Healing Environment

Lower risk of stress-related disorders among people with more dense vegetation near their residences (modest evidence)significant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently)

Lower blood pressure or heart rate among people with more exposure to nature (modest evidence)

Keep reading

Authors

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Last update: May 14, 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

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