Married cancer patients live longer than those who are divorced, separated or never married, new research suggests.
The findings have been blamed on the damage done to the body’s immune system by the stress caused by marital breakdown.
Dr Gwen Sprehn, of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, drew the results from the records of 3.79 million patients diagnosed with cancer between 1973 and 2004.
She found that married cancer patients had the highest survival rates, with 63.3 per cent still alive five years after diagnosis and 57.5 per cent still alive after ten years.
Patients who were separated had the worst survival rates, with 45.4 per cent still alive after five years and 36.8 per cent still alive after ten.
Widowed patients had the next worst survival rates, followed by those who were divorced and then those who had never married.
Dr Sprehn, whose findings were published in the journal Cancer, said: “Patients who are going through separation at the time of diagnosis may be a particularly vulnerable population for whom intervention could be prioritised.
“Identification of relationship-related stress at time of diagnosis could lead to early interventions which might favourably impact survival.”
Last month another American study concluded that the stress caused by divorce could lead to long-term health problems including cancer and heart disease.
“Some health situations, like depression, seem to respond both quickly and strongly to changes in current conditions,” said Professor Linda Waite, who helped conduct the study.
“In contrast, conditions such as diabetes and heart disease develop slowly over a substantial period and show the impact of past experiences, which is why health is undermined by divorce or widowhood, even when a person remarries.”