A lack of social connections has so far been linked to various health risks, including cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease. Now, according to a new study, loneliness can pose a significant mortality risk for individuals diagnosed with cancer.

Social support is essential for improving the quality of life of terminally ill patients. Emotional support provides patients with love, care, and trust, while instrumental support assists with daily activities and practical needs. Both types of support from family and friends can contribute to a faster recovery and overall well-being.

A new study led by researchers at the American Cancer Society showed when stripped of all social connections, a cancer patient has a higher likelihood of dying faster.

The study, led by Jingxuan Zhao, a senior scientist at the American Cancer Society, analyzed survey information collected between 2008 and 2018 from a group of individuals aged 50 and older.

The study examined the intensity of loneliness at different emotional points, including categories such as low or no loneliness, mild loneliness, moderate loneliness, and high loneliness.

The study findings revealed that survivors who reported higher levels of loneliness had increased hazard ratios, indicating a greater risk of mortality compared to those in the low or no loneliness group.

The study authors proposed the implementation of programs aimed at identifying and evaluating loneliness in cancer survivors to extend social support to individuals, who require assistance.

"One approach to reduce their loneliness is to connect with other people who also have had cancer or to join a support group and share their experience," Zhao told United Press International (UPI). "Cancer survivors can also reach out to social workers, therapists or other health professionals to express their concerns and seek help."

"Ask cancer survivors about their feelings or help them navigate programs that can screen for loneliness and provide social support to those in need," she said.

"Loneliness is increasingly recognized as a risk factor for worse outcomes in cancer survivors," Dr. Arif Kamal, chief patient officer for the American Cancer Society, told UPI. "Research like this highlights the important opportunity role of oncology teams and primary care providers in assessing for loneliness and creating community-based interventions to ensure that no one experiences or survives cancer alone."

Loneliness is linked to increased health risks and susceptibility to self-destructive behavior. Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash