New Study Suggests Why Cancer Survival Is Greater For Married Patients

Cancer Prevention Institute of California finds that benefits of marriage not due to having more economic resources.

FREMONT, CALIF. (April 11, 2016) -- Studies have shown married cancer patients have a more favorable survival rate than unmarried patients. In a new study by the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC), published on April 11, 2016 in the journal CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, researchers found that while having access to greater economic resources including private health insurance and living in higher socioeconomic status neighborhoods were associated with improved survival, these factors did not greatly impact the beneficial effects on survival rate among married patients. 

Led by Scarlett Lin Gomez Ph.D., M.P.H., of CPIC and Stanford, this study indicates that social support may be one of the main reasons married men and women survive cancer more than unmarried patients.

“While other studies have found similar protective effects associated with being married, ours is the first in a large population-based setting to assess the extent to which economic resources explain these protective effects, “ said Dr. Gomez. “Our study provides evidence for social support as a key driver.” Based upon our findings, we suggest that physicians and other health professionals who treat unmarried cancer patients ask if there is someone within their social network available to help them physically and emotionally.

Compared to married patients, unmarried patients had an increased risk of death that was higher in males. Men and women appear to benefit differently from marriage, with women benefiting more financially and men benefiting more socially. 

Furthermore, the adoption of healthier lifestyle habits that often accompanies marriage may be greater among men than women. Married patients tend to engage in healthy behaviors more often than unmarried patients such as eating healthier, engaging in more physical activity, participating in health prevention measures, such as cancer screening and receiving more aggressive treatment.

In this study researchers evaluated nearly 800,000 cancer patients diagnosed between 2000-2009 and followed through 2012 using data from the California Cancer Registry.

A companion study, María Elena Martínez, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and other co-authors including Gomez found the benefits of being married varied by race and ethnicity, with non-Hispanic white unmarried men having the worst outcome. This group had a 24 percent higher mortality rate than their married counterparts. Unmarried non-Hispanic white females had a 17 percent increase in mortality than those who were married. While single Asian/Pacific Islander females saw a 6 percent increase in cancer death compared to wedded women.

Additional study co-authors include Iona Cheng, Christina Clarke and Sally L. Glaser of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and Stanford; Susan Hurley and Alison J. Canchola of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California; James D. Murphy and María Elena Martínez of UC San Diego; and Theresa H. M. Keegan of UC Davis. 

About the Cancer Prevention Institute of California

The Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC) is the nation’s premier organization dedicated to preventing cancer and to reducing its burden where it cannot yet be prevented. CPIC tracks patterns of cancer throughout the entire population and identifies those at risk for developing cancer. Its research scientists are leaders in investigating the causes of cancer in large populations to advance the development of prevention-focused interventions. CPIC’s innovative cancer prevention research and education programs, together with the work of the Stanford Cancer Institute, deliver a comprehensive arsenal for defeating cancer. For more information, visit

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