Many teen and young adult cancer survivors face social struggles, a new study finds.
Researchers surveyed more than 140 U.S. cancer patients who were 14 to 39 years old at the time of diagnosis. Patients answered questions when they learned they had cancer and again one and two years later.
At all three time points, the cancer patients had worse social functioning than people in the general population. Although slight improvements were noted over the first year after diagnosis, social prowess remained much lower than in the general population two years after diagnosis, the researchers found.
“Reducing physical symptoms and psychological distress and enhancing social support by interventions in the period after treatment may potentially help these young survivors to better reintegrate into society,” said study author Olga Husson. She’s a postdoctoral research fellow at Radboud University Medical Center in The Netherlands.
The study results were published online March 20 in the journal Cancer.
One-third of the participants had consistently low social functioning throughout the entire study period. These patients were more likely to have stopped receiving treatment, meaning they were coping with the challenges of switching from cancer patient to survivor.
That may have meant they were dealing with concerns about finances, body image, work goals, relationships and plans for having children, according to the researchers.
Patients with consistently low social functioning also had more physical symptoms and higher levels of mental distress. They reported receiving less social support, too, Husson and her colleagues said in a journal news release.
While the study finds a link between cancer survival and social struggles, it doesn’t establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on cancer survivorship.