September 25, 2013
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Study Finds Marriage Boosts Cancer Survival
Married people are more likely to survive cancer, a large new study finds. They also tend to have their cancer diagnosed at earlier stages and are more likely to get appropriate treatment. The study included about 735,000 people diagnosed with cancer. Married men were 23% less likely to die of their disease than those who were single, widowed or divorced. For married women, the advantage was narrower, 16%. Married people were 53% more likely to get appropriate treatment. They were 17% less likely to be diagnosed with cancer that had spread beyond its original site. The study included people with 10 different types of cancer. For 5 types of cancer, being married improved survival more than the known benefit of chemotherapy. Researchers said the study doesn't show that being married actually causes the lower death rates. But they said it shows the importance of social support. This means having someone who nags you to get a colonoscopy, for example. A spouse, or a friend, can also take notes when you discuss treatment options and make sure you get to your appointments. The Journal of Clinical Oncology published the study. HealthDay News and many other news media wrote about it.
By Reena L. Pande, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Social connectedness again proves important for improved health. A study just released from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston shows major health benefits for married people with cancer. For example:
These findings were true no matter what the type of cancer. And there was an even more amazing finding -- the survival benefits of marriage were stronger than the benefits of chemotherapy!
Perhaps these findings come as no surprise, since the benefits of marriage have been seen for other medical conditions as well. Take the case of heart disease. Studies have shown that people who are married when they have heart bypass surgery are twice as likely to survive as unmarried people. And those in happy marriages fared better than those in unhappy marriages.
Why does marriage seem to have such a positive effect on health? There are lots of theories. A spouse can be helpful in countless ways:
Spouses also provide moral support and love and affection, which can be critical during times of illness.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
While this research focuses on marriage, the benefits may have more to do with having adequate social supports. That social connectedness may lead to improvements in overall health, lower stress and depression, and even lower risk of heart disease.
Even if you are not married, you can make sure you stay connected socially and use the supports around you to help improve your health. Here are some examples:
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
We can't just ask all our patients to go out and get married! But as a medical community we do need to pay closer attention to our patients' social situations. Doctors need to do better at making sure people have adequate social supports to manage their disease. That connectedness can have a huge impact on your health.