Having a strong social support network may help women’s bodies fight ovarian cancer, a new study shows.

Researchers found that women with more social support had lower levels of a protein that’s linked to more aggressive types of ovarian cancer.

The protein, known as interleukin 6 (IL-6), is a marker of inflammation in the body. Researchers say if there’s less inflammation, there’s a better chance that the cancer will go away. High levels of this protein have also been shown to promote the growth and spread (metastasis) of ovarian cancers.

According to the researchers, studies also show that higher levels of IL-6 are related to decreased effectiveness of chemotherapy, shorter survival, and cancer relapse.

They say this is the first study to link factors such as social support and quality of life to levels of the protein, which is produced by immune system cells and ovarian tumor cells.

Read WebMD's "Support: That's What Friends Are For"

Friends May Help in Ovarian Cancer Fight

In the study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Cancer, researchers compared IL-6 levels in 61 women with advanced-stage (metastatic) ovarian cancer. The women also answered questions about the level of social support they received, depression, mood, and quality of life.

As expected, the results showed that levels of IL-6 and depression were higher than normal in these women.

But women who reported having a strong social support network had significantly lower levels of IL-6 in both the blood and in the fluid surrounding the tumor.

For example, women with weak social support had IL-6 levels that were 1.7 times higher in the blood and 2.5 times higher in the tumor area than those with strong social support.

Researchers also found that women who reported a poorer quality of life, including fatigue and decreased physical function, had higher levels of the protein in their bloodstream.

They say the results suggest that psychosocial factors, such as social support, may play an important role in the clinical course of ovarian cancer.

Read WebMD's "Get the Facts about Ovarian Cancer"

By Jennifer Warner, Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

SOURCES: Constanzo, E.Cancer, July 15, 2005; vol 104. News release, John Wiley & Sons.