"I get by with a little help from my friends" is the theme of a new breast cancer study from Kaiser Permanente that says women have an easier time with the pain and the physical symptoms of treatment if they have a strong peer network.

News of a diagnosis can be devastating, and 1 in 4 cancer patients suffers from depression after learning the fact. Treatment for breast cancer is often agonizing and can last anywhere from a few months to years. Breast cancer is the leading cause cancer-related death amongst women.

Last November, the same group found that larger, more supportive social networks are associated with lower breast cancer mortality. This follow-up study suggests that family and friends are especially important during treatment and can possibly help alleviate some of the physical pain.

"While hundreds of studies have examined the role of factors influencing cancer risk and prevention, this study is one of a small but growing number that focus quality of life after a breast cancer diagnosis," said lead author Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH, a staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. "This study provides evidence that social support helps with physical symptoms,"

From 2006 to 2011, detailed surveys were given to over 3000 women from Northern California who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. "Quality of life" questions asked patients to report, using a scale of 0 to 4, on certain aspect of their lives. Statements on the survey included things like: "One or both of my arms are swollen or tender", "I have pain," and "I am able to work." These values were then compared with self-reported information on their social lives.

Regardless of the severity of the disease, having a larger social network was linked to self-reporting a better quality of life and fewer pain symptoms. Having people to share good times with - "positive social interactions" - was the best predictor for high quality of life.

"Positive social interaction was significantly related to every quality-of-life measure," wrote the authors. "It is possible that positive social interaction may enable women to forget for a while the distress of being a cancer patient, and the physiologic effects last beyond the actual interaction."

Tangible support - such as help with household tasks and errands - also led to particular gains amongst women with late-stage disease.

"This study provides research-based evidence that social support helps with physical symptoms," said Kroenke. "Social support mechanisms matter in terms of physical outcomes."