Could being married increase the life expectancy of cancer patients?

A new peer-reviewed study published in the journal CANCER has revealed a link between marital status and the life expectancy of cancer patients.

The researchers, from the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and the San Diego School of Medicine, looked at data from almost 800,000 people diagnosed with invasive cancers between the years 2000 and 2009. They found that unmarried cancer patients had higher death rates than married patients.

In unmarried men the rate of death was 27 per cent higher than in those with spouses. Women were found to be 19 per cent more likely to die from the illness. The researchers acknowledge that a ‘minimal’ part of this effect can be explained by the comparative wealth of married patients compared with those who are single. Married people are also more likely to have private health insurance and live in areas with better health indices.

The researchers say that their findings have important public health implications, as marriage rates plummet and divorce rates rise worldwide. The number of cancer patients is also increasing due to the ageing population.

Dr. Gomez, the study’s lead author, said:

‘While other studies have found similar protective effects associated with being married, ours is the first in a large population-based setting to assess the extent to which economic resources explain these protective effects. Our study provides evidence for social support as a key driver.’

‘Research is needed to understand the specific reasons behind these associations so that future unmarried patients can receive interventions to increase their chances of survival.’

They conclude that health professionals who treat unmarried cancer patients should ask them if there is someone who is able to provide then with physical and emotional support during their treatment.