Men more likely to leave when cancer strikes partner

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Men are more likely to leave women diagnosed with cancer according to a new analysis. Though divorce rates were found to be the same among cancer patients, researchers were surprised to find that men leave women more often compared to when a man is the patient. When cancer strikes, women are the ones most likely to find themselves separated or divorced.

Marc Chamberlain, M.D., a co-corresponding author and director of the neuro-oncology program at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), "Female gender was the strongest predictor of separation or divorce in each of the patient groups we studied."

According to the authors, it may be more difficult for men to assume the role of caregiver, compared to women. Men may have more trouble caring for a family when their partners are sick.


The study was initiated because physicians in practice observed that divorce occurred exclusively when the woman became a cancer patient. They also found that older women found themselves divorced or separated more frequently when cancer strikes.

"We believe that our findings apply generally to patients with life-altering medical illness," the authors wrote. "We recommend that medical providers be especially sensitive to early suggestions of marital discord in couples affected by the occurrence of a serious medical illness, especially when the woman is the affected spouse and it occurs early in the marriage. Early identification and psychosocial intervention might reduce the frequency of divorce and separation, and in turn improve quality of life and quality of care."

The study examined 515 patients in 2001 and 2002 – approximately fifty percent were women. The results showed that women were more likely to experience separation or divorce following a diagnosis of cancer than when men were patients.

Additional study findings among women separated or divorced after diagnosis of cancer included increased use of antidepressants, less compliance with therapy, more frequent hospitalizations, and increased likelihood of dying at home.