Married People More Likely to Survive Cancer

Staying Single Linked to Higher Cancer Death Risk, Research Shows

By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 14, 2011 -- Some people think that unattached guys have it made. But being a lifelong bachelor may not be all it's cracked up to be, at least when it comes to a man's odds of surviving cancer.

A man without a mate is 35% more likely to die from cancer as a man who wears a wedding ring, a new study reveals.

Researchers tracked the number of cancer deaths for 13 common cancers, including breast, prostate, malignant melanoma, colon, and lung, in more than 440,000 Norwegian men and women over a 40-year period from 1970 to 2007.

Overall, single men and single women fared the worst in their cancer outcomes. Never-married men and women were found to have a greater risk of losing their life to the disease compared to those who had tied the knot, divorced, or were widowed.

During the 1970-1974 study period, never-married men were 18% more likely to die from cancer than married men. More recently during the 2005-2007 time period, never-married men were 35% more likely to die from cancer.

Never-married women during the 1970-1974 study period were 17% more likely to die from cancer than married women. During the 2005-2007 time period, never-married women were 22% more likely to die from cancer.

The study was published online in the journal BMC Public Health.

The Marriage Advantage

The study showed an increasingly wider gap in recent years between the cancer survival rates of men and women who have walked down the aisle and those who have not. But there was not much change in the cancer death rates for those who were widowed or divorced.

Cancer death rates in men who never got hitched appeared to steadily rise over time compared to married men. It was much higher in bachelors over 70.

"The differences in survival between unmarried and married people with cancer could possibly be explained by better general health at the time of diagnosis or better adherence to treatment regimes and follow-ups," says study researcher Astri Syse, PhD, of the Cancer Registry of Norway, in a news release.

Researchers also believe that the emotional support from a spouse during and after cancer treatment might make a difference in survival rates. Married people may also be more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at an earlier stage -- thanks to nudging your partner to have regular doctor's visits.

Some husbands and wives may also have healthier lifestyles -- in terms of diet, or less smoking and alcohol, and better mental health -- than some unmarried men and women, the researchers theorize.

One weakness of the study is that researchers did not have enough information about unmarried people to know whether they were truly single or living with someone.


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SOURCES: Kravdal, H. BMC Public Health, Oct. 14, 2011.News release, BioMed Central. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.