Giuliana Rancic is a cancer survivor. Image via Instagram.
A growing body of research evidence shows being married greatly increases patients’ chances of being cured of cancer. But while there’s a clear link between marriage status and treatment outcome, the benefit is likely to extend to anyone in a close personal relationship.
The most recent such work is from doctors and scientists at Harvard University who published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer. It shows people who are married are less likely to die from head and neck cancer.
What’s the evidence?
The Harvard study collected data from over 51,000 patients who were diagnosed with a form of head or neck cancer between 2007 and 2010, via the National Cancer Institute’s epidemiology program, SEERS.
While the main focus of the research was marital status, it also looked at other factors such as tumour site, race, income, insurance status, age and sex. The study authors found married people were 28 per cent to 47 per cent less likely to present with cancer that had spread to other areas in the body, which is a key determinant in treatment success.
The importance of having a spouse appears to come from their ability to detect the early signs of cancer. This may include visual changes in their partner but also audio clues like hoarseness when speaking, difficulty swallowing or other changes in their voice. After picking up these signs, spouses tend to encourage their partner to visit a doctor, which leads to earlier diagnosis and treatment.
The study authors suggest the continuing support provided by spouses also plays a key role in their partners' treatment success. Married patients were more likely to listen to their doctors' advice and adhere to their medication schedules. (Post continues after gallery)
While the study examines the importance of spousal influence, it doesn’t elaborate on the importance of other factors such as whether the patients were regular smokers, consumed high levels of alcohol or were at risk of cancer from other causes, such as human papilloma virus (HPV).