Study: Marriage makes a difference in cancer survival rates

A study published Monday in the journal Cancer finds that marriage has a significant impact on cancer survival rates, especially among men. From the NY Times:

Using the California cancer registry, the scientists identified 783,167 cancer patients, and 386,607 deaths. They used health insurance data and neighborhood socioeconomic levels to assess economic resources.

The risk of death among unmarried men was 27 percent higher, and among unmarried women 19 percent higher, than among the married. But even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors, unmarried men still had a 22 percent higher mortality risk and unmarried women a 15 percent higher risk than the married.

Previous studies have suggested a link between marriage and surviving cancer but some of that impact was attributed to married people having better economic circumstances. The current study tried to rule out the impact of economics and found that social and personal support were likely responsible for much of the improved survival rate. The study also found the improved outcomes were true for all types of cancer though the survival rates differed. CBS News quotes one of the study’s authors on the significance of the findings:

“The effects that we find were actually quite notable,” said study author Scarlett Lin Gomez, a research scientist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California. “They are comparable to some of the more clinical factors we often see that are associated with cancer prognosis, like stage of disease or certain types of treatment.”

[…]

“These patterns were very minimally explained by the married patients having greater economic resources,” Gomez said. “Specifically, we looked at health insurance and we looked at living in a higher socioeconomic status neighborhood. Even though these played a small role, they really didn’t explain the greater survival among the married.”

Finally, there is a caveat noted by the authors. While this study found a correlation in the data, there could yet be other explanations which will only be discovered by further research:

The findings don’t prove single life causes death from cancer, however. It’s also possible that certain characteristics that lead people to marry, such as being physically or emotionally healthier than people who don’t find mates, might influence patients’ survival odds, the authors note in the journal Cancer.

Still in an age of declining marriage rates this seems like evidence that the old institution has some real benefits, especially for men.