A little romance may go a long way toward helping breast cancer survivors thrive.
New research showed that a strong romantic relationship wasn't the cure-all, but it was linked to lower psychological stress and lower inflammation, which is a key to staying healthy.
"It's important for survivors, when they're going through this uncertain time, to feel comfortable with their partners and feel cared for and understood, and also for their partners to feel comfortable and share their own concerns," said lead author Rosie Shrout, a postdoctoral scholar in the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University.
"Our findings suggest that this close partnership can boost their bond as a couple and also promote survivors' health even during a very stressful time, when they're dealing with cancer," she said in a university news release.
For the study, 139 female breast cancer survivors, average age 55, completed questionnaires and gave blood samples.
One survey assessed relationship satisfaction. The other questionnaire evaluated their level of psychological stress.
Researchers analyzed blood samples for levels of proteins that aid inflammation. Inflammation is linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer's disease, among other conditions.
The more satisfied women felt about their romantic relationships, the lower their stress and inflammation, the researchers found.
"This gave us a unique perspective -- we found that when a woman was particularly satisfied with her relationship, she had lower stress and lower inflammation than usual -- lower than her own average," Shrout said. "At a specific visit, if she was satisfied with her partner, her own inflammation was lower at that visit than at a different visit when she was less satisfied."
Although the findings related to breast cancer survivors, Shrout believes a strong romantic relationship would be helpful to people with other serious illnesses by lowering their stress.
The report was published online recently in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.