Married lung cancer patients seem to survive longer than single patients, according to a recent study at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore.
Researchers at the University of Maryland evaluated 168 patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer who were treated with chemotherapy and radiation over a 10-year period. Researchers found that 33 percent of married patients were still alive after three years, compared to only 10 percent of single patients, women more so than men. Married women had the best survival statistic, whereas single men had the worst. Interestingly, single women and married men had the same survival rate at three years. When comparing race, married Caucasian women had a better survival rate than married African-American women.
According to the study's lead author, Elizabeth Nichols, M.D., radiation oncology resident at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, marital status appears to be an important independent predictor of survival in patients with locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer. "The reason for this is unclear, but our findings suggest the importance of social support in managing and treating our lung cancer patients," says Nichols.
Because social support is so important in regards to cancer treatment and survivorship, more research is planned in this area, according to Steven J. Feigenberg, M.D., associate professor of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine and radiation oncologist at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center. "We need to better understand why marriage is a factor in our patients' survival," says Feigenberg.
Previous studies have found decreased survival among single men diagnosed with other types of cancer, such as prostate and head and neck cancer. This is especially true among men who had never been married. Women who had never married were more likely to die of cancer as well compared to those women who were married, but the percentage was a bit more favorable for women than men.
I did not find this research to be very surprising, as many cancer patients rely on their spouses for physical and psychological support on a daily basis. But what happens when the home environment is stressful and the spouse is not available for support? Or even worse, does not want to be available for support because of the inability to cope with the cancer diagnosis?