Social Networks Across Common Cancer Types: The Evidence, Gaps, and Areas of Potential Impact

Although the association between social context and health has been demonstrated previously, much less is known about network interactions by gender, race/ethnicity, and sociodemographic characteristics. Given the variability in cancer outcomes among groups, research on these relationships may have important implications for addressing cancer health disparities. We examined the literature on social networks and cancer across the cancer continuum among adults. Relevant studies (N=16) were identified using two common databases: PubMed and Google Scholar. Most studies used a prospective cohort study design (n=9), included women only (n=11), and were located in the United States (n=14). Seventy-five percent of the studies reviewed used a validated scale or validated items to measure social networks (n=12). Only one study examined social network differences by race, 57.1% (n=8) focused on breast cancer alone, 14.3% (n=2) explored colorectal cancer or multiple cancers simultaneously, and 7.1% (n=1) only prostate cancer. More than half of the studies included multiple ethnicities in the sample, while one study included only low-income subjects. Despite findings of associations between social networks and cancer survival, risk, and screening, none of the studies utilized social networks as a mechanism for reducing health disparities; however, such an approach has been utilized for infectious disease control. Social networks and the support provided within these networks have important implications for health behaviors and ultimately cancer disparities. This review serves as the first step toward dialog on social networks as a missing component in the social determinants of cancer disparities literature that could move the needle upstream to target adverse cancer outcomes among vulnerable populations.

Advances in cancer research. 2016 Nov 29 [Epub]

L J Rice, C H Halbert

Hollings Cancer Center, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, United States. Electronic address: ., Hollings Cancer Center, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, United States; Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Charleston, SC, United States.