Marriage can increase the survival chances of cancer patients than those who do not have the support of a spouse during their battle with cancer, says a new study.
The study conducted by researchers at the University of California which involved nearly 800,000 people found that the death rates among unmarried patients are higher, with the difference particularly marked among single men.
‘Unmarried non-Hispanic whites with cancer had a 24% higher risk of dying than married men, while for women mortality was 17% higher than those who were married.’
The study also found that the effect differs according to the patient's race and birthplace. The researchers found that 'social support' was likely to be the key.
Non-Hispanic white bachelor's reported a 24 percent higher mortality rate than their married counterparts. Unmarried women were also less likely to survive than married women, though the difference was less pronounced than in men. The mortality risk was 17 percent higher among unmarried non-Hispanic white women compared to those who were married.
María Elena Martínez, leader of the research at the university's school of medicine, said, "Cancer specialists should be aware that an increase in cancer mortality is a real outcome among unmarried individuals. Physicians treating unmarried patients should ask if there is someone within their social network available to help the individual physically and emotionally during treatment. More attention should be paid to this consistent and adverse health effect of being unmarried."
The study looked at nearly 400,000 men and nearly 400,000 women who were diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2009.
Patients who were born abroad had better survival rates than those who had recently moved to a country and lived in close-knit communities got more social support. The research also found that there was a significant difference among women of Hispanic descent as well as males and females of Asian/Pacific Islander descent who were born in the US compared to their foreign-born counterparts.
Dr Martinez said, "The results suggest that the more acculturated you become to US culture, the more it impacts cancer survivorship."
"Our hypothesis is that non-Hispanic whites don't have the same social network as other cultures that have stronger bonds with family and friends outside of marriage. As individuals acculturate, they tend to lose those bonds."
"It's also been shown that women seek out help for health concerns more frequently than men, and women tend to remind spouses to see their physicians and live a healthy lifestyle."
Numerous studies have found that married couples tend to be more healthy, but the researchers said they were the first to determine how much of the effect was due to money and companionship.
Dr Scarlett Lin Gomez, from the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, 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."