Social Disconnection in African American Women With Breast Cancer

Findings released today at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 10th National Conference on Cancer Nursing Research reveal that isolation was the strongest predictor of social disconnection in African American women with breast cancer. The study, presented by Sue Heiney, PhD, RN, CS, FAAN, of the Palmetto Health South Carolina Cancer Center in Columbia, SC, described the concept of social disconnection and the sociocultural influences that may impact it using data from 124 African American women with breast cancer enrolled in a National Cancer Institute-funded study which was institutional review board-approved.

“Social disconnection, the sense of being cut off from significant relationships, is theorized to occur after a breast cancer diagnosis,” said Heiney.

Relationships were defined as personal and community and were measured using the Social Support Questionnaire and Relational Health Indices. Cultural influences may coalesce to create social disconnection in African American women with breast cancer or may counteract the stress of diagnosis and treatment. Using baseline data, stress, stigma, fatalistic cancer beliefs, spirituality, fear, cancer knowledge, and isolation were measured using a variety of standardized scales.

The research findings demonstrate that isolation was found to be the most significant predictor of both personal connection and community connection.

“Another finding is that women more connected to their social network had greater knowledge about their cancer, its treatment, and side effects,” continued Heiney. “This finding suggests that family and friends contribute to the woman’s knowledge about cancer. Therefore, women should be encouraged to bring a support person to appointments to help them understand about their care.”

The findings suggest several areas that nurses and other healthcare providers could focus on when caring for African American women with breast cancer. For example, they should inquire about their stress levels and make efforts to encourage women to reach out to people in their social network. Connection is an important stress buffer. The importance of educating the African American community about cancer to help eliminate the stigma of cancer and fatalistic beliefs about it are reinforced in these findings. An implication is that clinicians and researchers may be able to reduce social disconnection by developing and implementing interventions that decrease isolation.

Coauthors of this study are Sandra Underwood, RN, PHD, Linda Wells, RN, MA, Rudolph Parrish, PhD, Linda Hazlett, PhD, and Lisa Bryant, MD.

Dad, Business man, and part time author who loves technology, culture, politics, and conversation. I hope that you enjoy the news that I like to write about. Feel free to get in touch with me about articles and topics that you want to see.