In recent decades cancer has gone from fatal diagnosis to chronic disease. A proportion surviving cancer go on to experience long-term effects as a result of disease and treatment. Self-management support has developed with an individual focus, as an approach for managing increasing numbers of cancer survivors but evidence of effectiveness is equivocal. Social networks, the web of social relationships that surround people, are a valuable resource in the self-management of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes. The role played in cancer survivors has not been sufficiently explored. Government and charities advocate development of community network support to improve long-term health of cancer survivors but there is lack of evidence for this approach.
This study aims to describe the structure and functions of cancer survivors’ social networks and understand how they contribute support for self-management and health related quality of life (HRQoL). The study reports findings from a survey of lymphoma, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer survivors conducted in England between 2015 and 2016 from a sample of 600 participants. Measures used in the study were Fact G, a social network tool, Health Education Impact Questionnaire, Illness perception and Social distress inventory. Multiple linear regression analysis was undertaken.
349 participants responded and were predominantly female (56%), white (98%), within 2-6 months of completing treatment (38%) and had been treated for breast cancer (39%). The final multivariate model predicted that cancer survivors HRQoL increased as self-management skills and group exercise participation increased and as social distress and negative illness perception decreased. These variables were from the social network characteristics and social distress models.
Findings suggest wider engagement of cancer survivors with group social network activity and subsequent receipt of discrete network self-management support improves HRQoL. New approaches to self-management support for cancer survivors should consider greater utilization of community group resources.
Clinical trial identification
Legal entity responsible for the study
University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust.
National Institute of Health Research, Integrated Clinical Academic Programme.
All authors have declared no conflicts of interest.