Marriage helps in beating cancer: Study

Being married is a factor in a cancer patient's survival rate a new study has found.

The University of California San Diego (UCS) report, published Monday in the journal Cancer, shows that the chances of surviving cancer when married are higher than if single. But the study's authors also stressed that sex, race, ethnicity and birthplace have a key role in determining a patient's survival.

In the study of 800,000 cancer patients, white bachelors and white single women are the least likely to survive – single non-Hispanic white males experienced the worst outcome with a 24 per cent higher mortality rate than their married counterparts.

Unmarried women also had a higher mortality rate than married women, but the difference was less significant than among men. Single non-Hispanic white females had a 17 per cent increase in mortality compared to those who were married.

"Women seek out help for health concerns more frequently than men, and women tend to remind spouses to see their physicians and live a healthy lifestyle," said Dr. Maria Elena Martinez, lead author of the study and professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at UCS' School of Medicine.

Each year, cancer costs the world more money than any other disease, totaling $895 billion (S$1.2 trillion) annually, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR). Heart disease costs $753 billion.

The biggest financial impact is in terms of loss of life and productivity, in which cancer accounts for 1.5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) losses, according to the AICR website.

The research also reveals that unmarried cancer patients born outside the U.S. have better survival rates than unmarried cancer patients born in the U.S.

"The results suggest that the more acculturated you become to U.S. culture, the more it impacts cancer survivorship," said Martinez.

"Our hypothesis is that non-Hispanic whites don't have the same social network as other cultures that have stronger bonds with family and friends outside of marriage. As individuals acculturate they tend to lose those bonds." Martinez noted that cancer specialists "should be aware that an increase in cancer mortality is a real outcome among unmarried individuals."

The number of unmarried adults in the United States is growing from 10 per cent in 1960 to 23 per cent in 2012 among men and 8 to 17 per cent among women, according to UCS.

With the number of unmarried adults on the rise, researchers of the study say they now need to investigate why marriage is beneficial to cancer patients, and whether it is linked to spouses offering support and reminding patients of appointments and medication, among other things.