Married people are more likely to survive cancer than those who are single, new research has suggested.
A study of almost 60,000 blood cancer patients found that, on average, married people were 20% more likely to survive the disease than single people.
Survival rates were worse for single men than for single women.
Study author, Matthew Wieduwilt, said “single patients often present at a later stage” and are often more ill by this time, which could explain the variation in survival rates.
Wieduwilt, who is assistant clinical professor of the US blood and marrow transplantation programme, added: “If you are single, you don’t have someone at home nagging at you to get checked out – this is particularly true with men. Women tend to have more support even if they are single.
“Married people and people with families are more likely to stick to treatment.
“They have a support system making them go to chemo, reminding them to take their medication. They are also more motivated to seek out healthcare.
“To put it bluntly, they have something to live for.”
He continued: “These results show that health services need to take more care of single patients, they need to be the surrogate for a spouse.”
The study’s data came from the California Cancer Registry and included information from people with leukaemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
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Co-author of the research paper, Professor Maria Elena Martinez from the University of California, San Diego, warned that a person’s marital status should raise a “red flag” to doctors.
“If a cancer patient comes in without a family member or spouse, it should be a warning sign,” she explained.
“Medical staff need to ask the patient about the support at home. Doctors need to go that little bit extra with single patients.
“In our data, men benefit more than women from having a partner. Men tend to get more social support out of a marriage than women.
“This study reflects the wider picture. Across all cancers you are more likely to survive if you are married. It is consistent across all cancers.”
Adrienne Betteley, interim head of health and social care at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We know that a cancer diagnosis can leave people feeling very lonely and that this can have a detrimental effect on their lives, with many forced to skip meals or attend vital appointments alone.
“At worst it can result in patients refusing treatment altogether.
“That said, it is not just those who live alone who are left feeling this way. People who have lots of social contact and that are married or have a partner can still be affected by loneliness.
“That’s why it’s so vital for us to reach out to people affected by cancer, even those surrounded by family and loved ones. The smallest gesture can make such a big difference.”