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Being married may help cancer survival
September 23rd, 2013
05:32 PM ET

Being married may help cancer survival

Being married may significantly improve the likelihood of surviving cancer, researchers say.

In a new study of more than 700,000 people with diagnoses of the most deadly cancers in the United States, patients who were married were more likely to detect their disease early, receive potentially curable treatments and live longer. The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The researchers observed a 20% reduction in deaths among the patients who were married compared to unmarried patients - a benefit bigger than several kinds of chemotherapy used for treating cancer.

“It is pretty astonishing,” Dr. Paul Nguyen, the study’s senior author, said. “There’s something about the social support that you get within a marriage that leads to better survival.”

While the study found a strong link, researchers did not show that marriage directly causes better survival among cancer patients. The study examined associations between marital status and cancer outcomes.

The protective benefits of marriage may be due, in part, to spouses who stay on top of their partner’s health, especially their recommended cancer screenings, study authors said.

“You’re going to nag your wife to go get her mammograms. You’re going to nag your husband to go get his colonoscopy,” Nguyen said. “If you’re on your own, nobody’s going to nag you.”

In the study, people who were on their own were 17% more likely to have cancer that had spread beyond its original site.

Unmarried patients in the study were also 53% less likely to receive appropriate therapies. Nguyen, who is a radiation oncologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said spouses can help patients get the treatments they need.

“When I meet somebody by themselves sometimes they can be really overwhelmed by the information,” he said. “All the facts that you need to make your decisions, you don’t even hear those facts when you’re the person. You really need somebody else that’s listening and making those kinds of judgments for you.”

The perks of being married seem to continue as patients undergo their cancer treatments, which can often be painful and difficult to endure, Nguyen said.

“If you’ve got a spouse with you who is kind of helping you at the end of the day, helping you get your other stuff in order and really encouraging you to go to your treatments, I think you’re probably much more likely to complete those treatments and get the benefit of the treatment,” he said. “I’ve definitely taken a lot of patients through treatment where there’s no way they could have made it through without their spouse.”

The results also support findings from a 2005 study showing that older married women with breast cancer had a lower risk of mortality after diagnosis than their unmarried counterparts.

All this might sound like a downer for people who aren’t married, but Nguyen doesn’t see it that way.

“Whatever it is about a marriage that helps people live longer and make it through their cancer, it might very well be that any friend, any loved one can do that for a patient with cancer,” he said.

That may be especially true for men, who seemed to benefit more from marriage in the study than women.

“An unmarried guy might be much more of loner about his healthcare,” Nguyen said.

“Don’t be afraid to bring a buddy. Reach out to people because it could make a big difference.”


soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. bzig

    What a lovely Republican message. I guess we all must get married now.

    September 24, 2013 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lee

      Did you not bother to read the whole thing before commenting?

      September 24, 2013 at 11:54 | Report abuse |
    • maggie

      yeah, really....because you know what if you are single and you advocate for better health care services....providers become resentful...but if someone comes in to go to bat for you they feel threated.....they might try to give you better care or they may pass the buck around ...but they will be afraid of a lawsuit by the other loved one.....you are right about the "republican message"...disgusting

      September 26, 2013 at 03:33 | Report abuse |
  2. Peter Wexler

    I suspect that married cancer patients live longer because their spouses making sure that they get the care that they need.

    September 24, 2013 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe

      Because of course single people have no support group in place, being the oxygen stealing vermin that we are.

      September 25, 2013 at 06:52 | Report abuse |
  3. cvncvnrtutru568

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    September 25, 2013 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Timmy Suckle

    I kissed my way up to VP at a health insurance company. Now I take over $600,000 of your health care dollars for NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. And that’s just me. Now think about how many other VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. are at my company alone. Now multiply that by thousands of others at hundreds of other health insurance companies. From 10 to 25% of your health care dollars go towards administration that adds NO VALUE to your health care. But my company’s PAC dollars will continue to fool you little people into thinking that a single payer system will be bad. Little people like you are so easy to fool. Little people also don’t realize that a single payer system is the ONLY system that would allow little people (as an entire country) to negotiate better health care prices. Little people don’t realize that the Medical Cartels already know that. And that is the reason why the Medical Cartels spend so much PAC money from the hospitals and doctors lobbying against a single payer system. Some little people say that a single payer system would cost you little people more. But if that were true, then wouldn’t the hospitals and doctors WANT that extra money? Yes they would. So why do the Medical Cartels lobby against a single payer system? It’s because the Medical Cartels know it would allow little people to negotiate better health care prices. And that’s what the Medical Cartels are afraid of. Period.
    But us big wigs at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies don’t ever need to worry about health care no matter what it costs. We get our health care paid for one way or another by you little people. And we get the little people that work at our companies to contribute to our PACs. And us big wigs say it’s to protect the little peoples’ jobs. But in reality it would be in the little peoples’ best interest to NOT contribute to the PAC. Again, little people are so easily fooled. I won’t ever have to worry about losing my job with so many little people being brain washed by the Medical Cartels’ PAC money. Not only that, the Medical Cartels’ PAC money is used to elect so many republicans that will never allow a single payer system. Republicans have always fought against any meaningful health care reform. But that’s what our Medical Cartels’ PACs pay them for. Politicians can be bought so easily.
    Pretty soon the only people that will be able to afford health care is us big wigs. And that’s the way it should be. We don’t want you little people using up the resources when we need them. And once again, I thank you little people for capping my SS tax at the $113,700 level. Now I only pay 1.2% SS tax and you little people pay 6.2%. Also, thank you for extending my tax breaks. I’m using the extra money on my vacation houses.

    September 25, 2013 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. SoCalGal

    "Being married may help cancer survival." Perhaps, but on the other hand, marriage can also increase stress which can lead to high blood pressure, ulcers and diabetes, so go figure.

    September 25, 2013 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Just me

    I have breast cancer, I'm married (WAS single for yearssss so I've been on the other side of it too) and my husband has been by my side through the whole journey, I don't see this as a political thing, it helps to have a supportive spouse in all things; as well as supportive friends, family or whatever. If people would just stop arguing about everything and taking offense to every little thing, the would would be a better place. Thats MY story, take it or leave it.

    September 27, 2013 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dusty Johnson

    The science data behind this is simply really. Married people have more sex which is proven to heal the body of multidue diseases like sickness and cancers. So CNN is just saying "have more sex".

    September 27, 2013 at 20:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sinnamon

    My baby sister has a rare cancer for her age. She's 14 going on 15 in Demeber and she has Hepatoblastoma. I'm not asking for advice per say. What I am asking is help writing her story. I don't have the background information like a dr. I tried it in my own and end up with a head ach and more questions than answers.

    November 18, 2013 at 05:19 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.