Married Cancer Patients Live Longer | Preventing Cancer Blog

Date: 10/08/2013    Written by: Beth Levine

Married Cancer Patients Live Longer

"Don't marry the person you think you can live with; marry only the individual you think you can't live without." --James C. Dobson

A marriage can be a wonderful thing, filled with love, caring, and companionship.  And now, researchers have uncovered a potential benefit of being married that may offer many people a significant health boost and add years to their lives.  According to this recent study, cancer patients who have a spouse are more likely to survive the disease.

The research, which took place at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, found that those cancer patients who were married had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from the condition than did the cancer patients who were single.1  This effect was determined to hold up for all forms of cancer, regardless as to whether the unmarried participants had been widowed, divorced, separated, or never been married.

The subjects were 734,889 adults in the United States who had received a cancer diagnosis between 2004 and 2008.  The scientists analyzed their medical and personal records to consider the differences being married might make.  They discovered that all of the patients had a higher survival rate if they were married.  And, in the cases of some forms of the disease--including colorectal, breast, prostate, head and neck, and esophageal cancers--being married was actually found to confer higher rates of survival than being treated with chemotherapy.

There were a number of variables that were considered within the study.  For instance, the married participants were more often white, had a higher level of education, were younger, and had a greater likelihood of being male than the single participants.  However, after controlling for these factors, the married patients still fared considerably better in beating their cancer than the single patients.

While it's impossible to know exactly what it is about marriage that might benefit the cancer patients to such an extent, there are a number of possibilities.  Having a spouse around to encourage regular health care habits for preventing cancer but also having one another to rely on both before and after any diagnosis may make a difference.  The study found that the married subjects were 17 percent more likely than their unmarried peers to have the cancer diagnosed in its early stages, leading to a better prognosis and increasing the chance of full remission.  In addition, those who are married were 50 percent more likely to opt for the course of treatment with the best odds for a cure.  Perhaps that's because more aggressive therapies can make cancer patients very ill, and without a spouse in the home to act as a caregiver, some of these forms of treatment might be unrealistic and unsustainable.

But take heart if you are single. There's no need to rush out and get hitched to safeguard your health as long as you have a steady local support network you can count on if the going gets tough.  Ultimately, much of the benefit to the cancer patients in this research appears to be associated with the support provided by a spouse more than any other aspect specific to being married. A significant other, a sibling or another close relative, and friends you think of as family who would be willing to help take care of you should you get sick would serve the same exact purpose as a spouse as far as this study shows.

Research that was conducted at the University of Exeter Medical School in the United Kingdom earlier in 2013 found that support, even in the form of matched mentors and patients rather than close personal relationships, can be very beneficial to the health of those diagnosed with a wide range of chronic diseases.2  And that said, it's worth noting that the same kind of support system is likely to be equally valuable if you decide to forgo mainstream treatment and pursue an alternative course.

  • 1. Szabo, Liz. "Married cancer patients are more likely to survive." USA Today. 23 September 2013. Accessed 29 September 2013.
  • 2. Embuldeniya, Gayathri; et al. "The experience and impact of chronic disease peer support interventions: A qualitative synthesis." Patient Education and Counseling. 4 March 2013. Accessed 1 October 2013.

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    Submitted by Priya on
    October 14, 2013 - 2:42am

    This is something so true, if you have someone who loves and cares for you, then you get the strength to live more.

    Submitted by Thomas on
    November 5, 2013 - 12:19pm

    This reminds me of anecdotes indicating that POW's under torturous conditions have a much higher rate of survival if they have one best friend.

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