Social Support; Social Networks; Breast Cancer; Racial/Ethnic Disparities


Epidemiology | Women's Health


Social support from family and friends assists breast cancer patients navigate a life crisis, but more needs to be understood about specific social network characteristics that can benefit breast cancer patients. To address this need, the primary aim of this study was to identify social network factors that facilitate or reduce social support. Given racially patterned gaps in social support among breast cancer patients, a secondary goal was to identify network characteristics that are linked to gaps in support. We examined these research questions using data from a sample of 915 breast cancer patients (NHWhite=373; NHBlack=377; Hispanic=165) and 4,021 of their network members. To improve on prior research, we collected detailed social network data using a personal-network measurement tool and assessed needed and received support on five support components. Study findings identified specific network characteristics that facilitate these social support components. Network size was associated with increased practical, informational, emotional, and spiritual support. Network density was associated with increased practical support. Racial homogeneity in networks were associated with reduced informational support while a higher number of daughters in support networks was associated with increased emotional support. Compared to NHWhite patients, NHBlack patients were more likely to experience inadequate practical and financial support. Additionally, compared to NHWhite patients, Hispanic patients were more likely to experience inadequate informational and emotional support. The study found that network density, racial homogeneity, and gender composition of NHWhite, NHBlack and Hispanic social networks contributed to the racially patterned disparities in social support. Findings in this study could inform interventions aimed at increasing social support through greater mobilization of existing network ties as well as policy-driven, formal community building initiatives aimed at replicating benefits of naturally occurring networks.