When cancer patients interact with one another during chemotherapy, they may have a better chance of extending their lives, according to new research.

In the study, conducted by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the University of Oxford, researchers found that cancer patients had a slightly better chance of surviving five years or more after going through chemotherapy if they socialized with other patients during treatment who also survived for five years or more.

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“People model behavior based on what’s around them,” lead author Jeff Lienert said in a statement. “For example, you will often eat more when you’re dining with friends, even if you can’t see what they’re eating. When you’re bicycling, you will often perform better when you’re cycling with others, regardless of their performance.”

To see if the same results occurred among cancer patients, the researchers analyzed about 10 years' worth of electronic medical records from two hospitals in the United Kingdom. Lienert and his team looked at the total time a patient spent with other patients undergoing chemotherapy and compared their five-year survival rates.

“We had information on when patients checked in and out of the chemotherapy ward, a small intimate space where people could see and interact for a long period of time,” Lienert said. “We used time spent getting chemotherapy in a room with others as a proxy for social connection.”

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The findings, published in the journal Network Science, showed that when patients interacted with other patients during chemotherapy who died within five years following treatment, they had a 72 percent chance of dying less than five years after their own treatment. A patient’s chance of dying within five years dropped to 60 percent when they interacted with someone who survived at least five years following chemotherapy.

“A two percent difference in survival - between being isolated during treatment and being with other patients - might not sound like a lot, but it’s pretty substantial,” Lienart said. “If you saw 5,000 patients in nine years, that 2 percent improvement would affect 100 people.”

Bringing a friend, family member, caregiver, or other visitor to chemotherapy may help too, but the researchers didn’t study the effect of it. “The impact is likely to be as effective, and possibly more effective, than cancer patients interacting with other cancer patients," he said. 

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