Summary: Loneliness in middle-aged men increased the risk of them developing cancer by 10%.
Source: University of Eastern Finland
A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland shows that loneliness among middle-aged men is associated with an increased risk of cancer.
According to the researchers, taking account of loneliness and social relationships should thus be an important part of comprehensive health care and disease prevention. The findings were published in Psychiatry Research.
“It has been estimated, on the basis of studies carried out in recent years, that loneliness could be as significant a health risk as smoking or overweight. Our findings support the idea that attention should be paid to this issue,” Project Researcher Siiri-Liisi Kraav from the University of Eastern Finland says.
The study was launched in the 1980s with 2,570 middle-aged men from eastern Finland participating. Their health and mortality have been monitored on the basis of registered data up until the present day. During the follow-up, 649 men, i.e. 25% of the participants, developed cancer, and 283 men (11%) died of cancer. Loneliness increased the risk of cancer by about ten percent.
This association with the risk of cancer was observed regardless of age, socio-economic status, lifestyle, sleep quality, depression symptoms, body mass index, heart disease and their risk factors. In addition, cancer mortality was higher in cancer patients who were unmarried, widowed or divorced at baseline.
“Awareness of the health effects of loneliness is constantly increasing. Therefore, it is important to examine, in more detail, the mechanisms by which loneliness causes adverse health effects. This information would enable us to better alleviate loneliness and the harm caused by it, as well as to find optimal ways to target preventive measures.”
Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of death. Loneliness has been suggested as a risk factor for cancer mortality. However, connections between loneliness, social isolation, and cancer are poorly understood.
In our longitudinal study (mean follow-up: 20.44 years) of 2570 middle-aged men, loneliness, social isolation, and health-related factors were measured at baseline. Cox proportional hazards analysis was used to examine the association between cancer incidence, loneliness, and social isolation.
The effect of relationship status on cancer mortality among cancer patients was tested with the Kaplan-Meier method. Loneliness was associated with total cancer incidence after adjustments for tested lifestyle and health-related covariates. Social Isolation was associated with total cancer incidence, except when adjusted for lifestyle, diet, or Human Population Laboratory (HPL) Depression Scale scores.
Loneliness was associated with lung cancer incidence, except when adjusted for HPL Depression Scale scores. There was no significant association between social isolation and lung cancer. Neither loneliness nor social isolation were connected with prostate or colorectal cancer. Being single at baseline was associated with worse survival outcomes for cancer patients.
Our findings suggest that regardless of the social network size, loneliness among middle-aged men is associated with an increased likelihood of cancer.