For Cancer Patients, Marriage Can Help You Survive
People who have the support of a spouse have been found to live longer after being diagnosed with cancer. In a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, married cancer patients are more likely to be diagnosed early and receive more life-saving treatments than those without support.
Dr. Ayal Aizer MD MHS, chief resident of the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program, Dr. Paul Nguyen, of Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, and colleagues collected data on more than 700,000 people who were diagnosed with one of ten cancers between 2004 and 2008. The cancers the team focused on were the 10 leading causes of cancer death and included lung, colorectal, breast, pancreatic, prostate, liver/bile duct, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, head and neck, ovarian and esophageal cancer.
Unmarried patients had a 17% higher chance of developing metastatic cancer and were 53% less likely to get the appropriate therapy for their cancer.
The partnership a marriage brings is likely one of the reasons married people fare better through a cancer diagnosis, Dr. Nguyen told NBC News. “It can be a very practical thing, like having somebody to go to the doctor with you.” While the actual patient might be reeling from the scariness of it all, the partner can listen, take notes and ask questions.
Other ways your spouse helps you is through tough love – the nagging for you to go to the doctor because of worrisome symptoms when you might otherwise try to ignore them. Your spouse will also help you keep appointments and stick to the prescribed treatment.
In addition, sharing the emotional burden with a partner eases stress and prevents severe depression and anxiety which is linked to better outcomes and better health overall.
Not married? The study isn’t meant to scare you – but to remind you of the importance of social support, whether from friends, family, or a support group. “What this shows is that social support can really make a big difference, and that by being there for somebody, you can really make a real difference in their chances of surviving,” says Dr. Nguyen.
Ayal A. Aizer, Ming-Hui Chen, Ellen P. Mccarthy, Mallika L. Mendu, Sophia Koo, Tyler J. Wilhite, Powell L. Graham, Toni K. Choueiri, Karen E. Hoffman, Neil E. Martin, Jim C. Hu, and Paul L. Nguyen. Marital Status and Survival in Patients With Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, September 2013 DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2013.49.6489.