Whether you're married, divorced or single seems to make a difference to your chances of surviving cancer. Odds appear best if you're married - or have never been married - and worst if you're separated from your spouse. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine looked at the medical records of nearly 3.8 million cancer patients to examine how marital status influenced the odds of cancer survival. They found that only 36.8 percent of separated individuals lived for 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer compared to 57.5 percent of married patients. Of those widowed, cancer survival for 10 years was 41 percent; for the divorced, 45.6 percent and for those never married 51.7 percent.
So why did married patients fare so well and separated spouses so poorly?
Here's an interesting and powerful example of how emotional health influences physical health. The explanation that seems to make the most sense goes back to what we already know about marriage: in general, it's good for your health. However, stress engendered by marital conflict, especially conflict that leads to a break-up, can undermine health.
Commenting on the findings, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Ohio State University College of Medicine's Division of Health Psychology noted that research has shown that stress and depression can boost inflammation which in turn can worsen cancer and, by extension, the outlook for survival. The study was published on line on August 24, 2009, in the journal Cancer.