SOCIAL FACTORS IN BREAST CANCER
A final way I have explored how heightened inflammation affects neural and psychological processes is by looking to disease models. In a recent study, for example, I examined links between neural reactivity, inflammation, and social support in a sample of breast cancer survivors (Muscatell et al., in press). Given that cancer, and especially treatment with chemotherapy, can have a profound affect on inflammatory functioning, utilizing a patient population allowed me to test “in vivo” the relation between inflammation and neural responses to threat. Results from this study indicated that breast cancer survivors, especially those treated with chemotherapy, showed greater links between inflammation and neural reactivity in threat regions, compared to healthy controls. However, high levels of social support among the survivors appeared to buffer this relationship. As with my pharmacological work cited above, these data suggest a possible neurobiological mechanism linking social support with health, pointing to the importance of social relationships for affecting both the brain, and the body. As part of this endeavor, I have partnered with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina.