Marital Discord May Reduce Long-Term Cancer Survival

Separated, widowed, divorced and never married have reduced survival compared to married peers
By Jeff Muise
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer survivors who are going through marital separation at the time of their diagnosis have the lowest long-term relative survival rates compared to their married and unmarried peers, according to a study published online Aug. 24 in Cancer.

Gwen C. Sprehn, Ph.D., of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, and colleagues analyzed Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results data on 3.79 million cancer survivors and associated five-year and 10-year survival for patient subgroups, including married, never married, divorced, widowed, or separated at time of diagnosis. Relative survival, which compares survival to a matched population without cancer, was calculated for each subgroup at five and 10 years.

The researchers found that married patients had the highest relative survival (63.3 percent for five year and 57.5 percent for 10 year), while the subgroup separated at time of diagnosis had the lowest five- and 10-year relative survival (45.4 and 36.8 percent, respectively). The other subgroups of unmarried patients also had reduced five- and 10-year relative survival: 47.2 and 40.9 percent for widowed patients, 52.4 and 45.6 percent for divorced patients, and 57.3 and 51.7 percent for never-married patients, respectively.

"Separated marital status is associated with a significant decrement in cancer survival, even in comparison with other unmarried groups. While other socioeconomic variables could contribute to this phenomenon, further research into the immunologic correlates of the acutely stressful condition of marital separation should be conducted," the authors conclude.

The study was partially supported by a grant from the Office of Cancer Survivorship of the National Cancer Institute.

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