According to a new study, tying the knot may be a pretty powerful weapon in the fight against cancer.
Researchers studied the health records of nearly 800,000 adults in California diagnosed with invasive cancer between 2000 and 2009, and followed up on the patients until the end of 2012.
Their findings? Married people seem to have an advantage when it comes to survival. The single men with cancer in the study had a death rate 27 percent higher than their married male counterparts, and the single female death rate was 19 percent higher.
And apparently, the financial advantages that come with marriage are not what is driving the difference. "These patterns were very minimally explained by the married patients having greater economic resources," said the lead author, Professor Maria Elena Martinez. "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."
What did, the researchers suspect, is the social support a spouse provides—things like making meals, driving to doctor's appointments, and keeping track of meds. "Treatments can drag on for months and months," said Scarlett Lin Gomez, another of the study's authors. "It can be very difficult if you're single and you don't have any other means to get to the doctor."
Plus, when you're married, "You have somebody who's there to listen to you," she said. "To counsel you through the stress of cancer treatment. Cancer is a very scary thing, and it's good to have someone by your side."
Of course, that doesn't mean you should run and get hitched following a diagnosis. "Certainly we're not advocating for getting married as a means to improve your outcome," Gomez said. "But single people can help themselves by maintaining stronger social networks, and being able to rely on friends and family members for help."
While more studies are needed to find out exactly why marital status makes such a difference, Martinez says healthcare providers should pay close attention to the findings. "We really want to highlight the awareness factor here that unmarried people perhaps could be considered a high-risk, vulnerable population," she said, adding that doctors should make efforts to ask questions of unmarried patients about their support network, and consider referring them to support services.
If you're interested in finding support programs in your own area, visit the Cancer Support Community.