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Married Cancer Patients Have Better Treatment Outcomes

Update Date: Sep 23, 2013 05:48 PM EDT

Marriage may help lengthen the lives of cancer patients, a new study suggests.

Investigators found that people who are married when diagnosed with cancer live longer than those who are not.

The study also found that married cancer patients were also more likely to have been diagnosed at an earlier stage and to receive more appropriate treatment.

"Our data suggests that marriage can have a significant health impact for patients with cancer, and this was consistent among every cancer that we reviewed," first author Dr. Ayal Aizer, MD MHS, chief resident of the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program, said in a news release.

"We suspect that social support from spouses is what's driving the striking improvement in survival. Spouses often accompany patients on their visits and make sure they understand the recommendations and complete all their treatments," researchers explained.

Researchers looked at data from 734,889 people who were diagnosed with cancer between 2004 and 2008.

After accounting for a number of demographic factors like age, sex, ethnicity, residence type, education and median household income, the study revealed that unmarried cancer patients, including those who were widowed, were 17 percent more likely to have metastatic cancer and 53 percent less likely to receive the appropriate therapy than married cancer patients.

"We don't just see our study as an affirmation of marriage, but rather it should send a message to anyone who has a friend or a loved one with cancer: by being there for that person and helping them navigate their appointments and make it through all their treatments, you can make a real difference to that person's outcome," senior study author Dr. Paul Nguyen, MD, a radiation oncologist at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women's Hospital, said in a news release.

"As oncologists, we need to be aware of our patients' available social supports and encourage them to seek and accept support from friends and family during this potentially difficult time," he added.

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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