The longitudinal study is among the first seeking to understand the social functioning among adolescents and young adults who have had cancer.
"The research is important to help these young survivors better reintegrate into society," said study co-author Brad Zebrack, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan.
Researchers collected data from 215 cancer patients aged 14 to 39 years who visited five medical facilities nationwide between March 2008 and April 2010. Patients completed a self-report measure of social functioning within the first four months of diagnosis, and again at 12 months and 24 months later. They also answered questions about their social interactions with family and friends, psychological needs and mental health.
Thirty-two percent of the survivors reported consistently low social functioning over time - and some had been off treatment. Zebrack and colleagues say this could stem from the transition from treatment to off-treatment survivorship, a time fraught with new challenges to a cancer survivor, including the negative impact on finances, body image, work plans, relationship with spouse/significant other and plans for having children.
In addition, those reporting low scores on social functioning also had high levels of distress, possibly reflecting an impaired ability to reintegrate into social activities due to the effects of cancer, the study showed.