The “marriage advantage” is nothing new and was first suggested that marriage can improve the health of the participants in the union over 150 years ago by epidemiologist William Farr. While this new study focuses on cancer survival, Farr was referring more to diseases like cholera harming the unmarried more, but the “marriage advantage” still holds true.
Marriage isn’t always the best thing, but if you have cancer…
There is little question that many have lived long, health and happy lives with a single partner and the union of marriage. However, on the opposite side of the coin are millions of people who have had the opposite experience where marriage was one of the darker chapters in life and it was ultimately divorced that got them back on track to happiness.
That’s neither here nor there with regards to a study recently published in the journal Cancer, where lead author, Professor Maria Elena Martinez of the University of California, San Diego clearly shows that there are advantages to marriage when trying to survive cancer.
Martinez and her co-researcher, Scarlett Lin Gomez of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, took a look at data from the California Cancer Registry and cancers effects on nearly 800,000 people. Specifically, the two women looked at data from 393,470 men and 389,697 women who were diagnosed by one of ten types of invasive cancer between 2000 and 2009. The two broke down the data by race, ethnicity, insurance status, income and a number of other factors including marital status. The two followed up with patients until 2012.
What the two found was quite staggering. Being married was a massive difference in survival rates for those diagnosed with invasive cancer with marital status affecting men more than women by quite a bit though both groups clearly survived cancer at a higher rate than their unmarried counterparts with the same cancer.
Unmarried men, according to the data studied by the two, had a 27% higher death rate than married me. The death rate in single women was 19% than married women.
“We speculate that it has to do more with issues related to social support than economics,” said the lead author, Professor Maria Elena Martinez.
Why does married life make the difference?
It’s easy to simply chalk this up to two incomes. Two incomes, in theory allow for better medical care and life in a neighborhood that is less likely to cause cancer. But, that second point is moot as the two only studied those you had already contracted cancer, the former was essentially disproved as the scientists broke down the data.
While money might help, Gomez points out that the two concluded the positive effects of marriage in a cancer fight boils down to “social support as a key driver.”
“We really want to highlight the awareness factor here that unmarried people perhaps could be considered a high-risk, vulnerable population,” said Martinez as she stressed the importance for doctors and oncologists to speak to their patients about their social safety net that could increase their chance of surviving the scourge that is cancer.
“While it’s unclear why married people in the study seemed to have better outcomes, it may in part be because partners can help to prompt their loved ones to go to the doctor early. So it’s important that single people make sure they go to the doctor soon if they develop a symptom they are concerned about,” Dr Alan Worsley, senior information officer at Cancer Research UK told the Guardian after reviewing the new study.