What is one of the best ways to prevent or fight cancer? It might be to have a wedding!
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A new study suggests that married people have a marked survival advantage over those who are single. Researchers found that single men with cancer had a death rate that was 27% higher than it was for those who were married. For females, it was 19% higher.
"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."
The advantage seems to rely on the emotional bonds that we face, and not the financial advantages, which is unexpected.
"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."
It should be noted that there isn't a cause and effect link here, though previous studies have shown similar benefits.
For the analysis, the researchers examined health records of 800,000 adults in California who were diagnosed with invasive forms of cancer. The study also found that financial resources didn't have much of an impact on a person's chance to beat cancer.
Instead, it appears that there are more benefits in what a spouse provides, such as accompanying them to appointments, taking care of them at home, and helping with medicine.
"Treatments can drag on for months and months," she said. "It can be very difficult if you're single and you don't have any other means to get to the doctor."
Married cancer patients also have reduced stress, according to Gomez.
"You have somebody who's there to listen to you, to counsel you through the stress of cancer treatment," she said. "Cancer is a very scary thing, and it's good to have someone by your side."
Dr. Gregory Masters, an oncologist with the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center in Delaware, said that the study "suggests the value of a devoted caregiver in helping to improve survival in cancer patients.
"Social support provided by devoted caregivers such as a spouse may be a major component of the improved survival for these patients," said Masters, an expert on patient care for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. "It suggests that a concerted effort to evaluate a patient's psychosocial resources may be as important as other factors in helping to improve cancer survival."
Simple people may not have someone by their side, but they should reach out to family and friends, both Gomez and Masters said.
"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."
The strategic director of cancer caregiver support for the American Cancer Society, Rachel Cannady, also suggested that long term relationships can help.
"These findings aren't unique to cancer," Cannady said. "We know that people live longer when they're couples, period, irrespective of disease. There's something to be said about having that sort of deep and meaningful relationship."
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Racially, white men and women benefited most, while Hispanics and Pacific Islanders benefited less.