A new study suggests that being married increases cancer patients’ chances of living longer. Published in the journal Cancer, the research shows that the social and emotional support of marriage, rather than any economic advantages, contributes to better outcomes.
“Across different racial and ethnic groups we were able to analyze whether economic resources played a role,” lead author Scarlett Lin Gomez, PhD, a research scientist at the Cancer Prevention Institute in Fremont, Calif., told the New York Times. “In fact, they play a very minimal role. It points more to social support as the defining factor.”
For the study, Gomez and her colleagues analyzed data from the California cancer registry, identifying 783,167 patients diagnosed with cancer and 386,607 cancer-related deaths from 2000 to 2009. Patients with invasive cancer were followed through 2012. For purposes of the study, the researchers used health insurance data and neighborhood socioeconomic levels to assess economic resources.
Study findings showed that the risk of death for single men was 27 percent higher than it was for married men. Among single women, the risk was 19 percent higher than it was for married women. After adjusting for socioeconomic factors, single men and women were still at a higher risk for death – 22 percent for men and 15 percent for women.
Gomez told HealthDay it is a combination of practical and emotional support that helps wedded cancer patients. Married cancer patients benefit from a spouse who can drive them to doctor’s appointments, provide nourishing meals, and make sure they take their medicine, she said.
“Treatments can drag on for months and months. It can be very difficult if you’re single and you don’t have any other means of getting to the doctor,” Gomez explained.
Gomez also noted that married cancer patients receive emotional support that can reduce stress and improve a person’s chances for a longer life. “You have somebody who’s there to listen to you, to counsel you through the stress of cancer treatment. Cancer is a very scary thing, and it’s good to have someone by your side,” she said.
While Gomez is not advocating getting married as a means of improving outcome, she does urge single cancer patients to reach out to friends and family for care and support. “Single people can help themselves by maintaining stronger social networks, and being able to rely on friends and family members for help,” she added.