Your spouse may be the key to beating cancer

Posted April 18

Those who are married may be more likely to survive cancer.

A new report from the University of California San Diego found that married couples have a higher chance of surviving cancer than those who are single, according to CNBC. The study found that white bachelors and bachelorettes had higher mortality rates than those who were partnered.

“For cancer and for overall health and longevity, married people do better. Period. This association is real,” Dr. María Elena Martínez, the lead researcher on the study, told Quartz.

The study said this is likely due to the social support systems that married partners create for each other.

In fact, single non-hispanic white men had a 24 percent higher mortality rate from cancer than married couples, and single non-hispanic white women had a 17 percent higher mortality rate than other women, according to the study.

The difference between men and women comes down to women seeking out medical help, the study’s lead author said, according to CNBC.

"Women seek out help for health concerns more frequently than men, and women tend to remind spouses to see their physicians and live a healthy lifestyle," Martínez said, according to CNBC.

The study also found that unmarried citizens from outside the U.S. have a higher survival rate than unmarried people from the U.S., showing that getting acclimated with U.S culture — and having strong familial bonds — can affect a person's chance of surviving cancer, CNBC reported.

"Our hypothesis is that non-Hispanic whites don't have the same social network as other cultures that have stronger bonds with family and friends outside of marriage,” Martínez said. “As individuals acculturate, they tend to lose those bonds."

As you might expect, this isn’t the first piece of research to make this connection. A 2013 study found that married patients live longer with their cancer diagnosis than unmarried patients. In fact, married patients are 17 percent less likely to have a metastatic diagnosis, and 53 percent more likely to receive appropriate therapy for treatment. In total, married couples are also 20 percent less likely to die from their cancer.

“Marriage probably improves outcomes among patients with cancer through increased social support,” Ayal Aizer, MD, MHS, a chief resident in radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School in Boston and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “Our results suggest that patients who are not married should reach out to friends, cancer support or faith-based groups, and their doctors to obtain adequate social support.”

Other research found something similar. Married partners often lessen the negativity surrounding a cancer diagnosis, which relieves some stress and anxiety, according to a 2012 study. And though financial issues were still common among married couples — since they have to pay for the medical expenses — there was still enough positivity to improve their well-being.

“This has implications for health care providers to be aware of potential influences of a marital relationship,” according to the study. “The influence of intimate partners and close friends has great potential to influence quality of life outcomes.”

This research has caught on with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which interviewed mind-body therapist Michael Uhl about how love can cure cancer. He said that couples will want to always communicate about each other’s issues regarding the diagnosis, since honesty is so important in any relationship.

Couples should also make sure to make room for “time out,” because cancer can make people feel angry, sad and upset.

“Allow your partner to feel their emotions and be comfortable with him/her taking a moment alone. The end goal is to fight the cancer, not one another,” Uhl wrote.

Married couples — even in the face of cancer — will still want to do things that they love, and remain intimate at appropriate times. Speaking with professionals may also be a good idea, as is making sure not to argue too much with each other, according to Uhl.

“Many people blame themselves or their loved ones for getting cancer, including being too stressed out, working too hard, or smoking,” he wrote. “Realize there are many factors that contribute to cancer, not just one.”

What does this look like in practice? Here are five inspiring stories from married couples who battled cancer together.

The photographer

Five months after they got engaged, Angelo Merendino and his fiancée Jen were stricken with sad news that the latter had been diagnosed with cancer. Instead of letting this destroy their relationship, Merendino decided to take photos of Jen’s daily life, as a way to humanize and put a face on cancer.

“They show the challenge, difficulty, fear, sadness and loneliness that we faced, that Jennifer faced, as she battled this disease," he wrote. "Most important of all, they show our love. These photographs do not define us, but they are us.”

Head here for a full look at the photographs.

The heartbreaking marriage

Kerry Vincent and Adam Welch were dating for only a few months before Vincent noticed her stomach start to swell, according to Daily Mail. What they first thought to be irritable bowel syndrome or a food intolerance turned out to be a much worse diagnosis. Instead, Vincent had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July 2015, and she died just last month.

Before her death, Welch made it a plan to give her a happy ending to her life. The two were married in Vincent’s hospital bed just four days before she died.

Saying ‘I Do’ in rehab

Roman Suri and his fiancée Francis thought they had to delay their marriage after Francis fell ill with pneumonia one day before the wedding ceremony, according to Delaware Online. Even worse, Francis had been battling stage four lung cancer, and often spent time trying to heal in rehab.

But that wasn't the case. Not wanting to file for another marriage license extension, the couple got married in the lobby of Genesis Healthcare, the rehab facility where Francis spends her time.

Facing cancer together

The Stuart family in Australia were married 42 years before they both received a cancer diagnosis, according to ABC. While Max Stuart has liver cancer and is on his second round of chemo, his wife Rhonda Stuart has breast cancer. She was diagnosed six weeks after her husband, and is undergoing her first chemotherapy treatment.

But now they’re taking it on together.

Getting cancer before 30

The young and married also struggle with cancer. According to, Matthew Friedman and Emily Helck are a married couple who are also both diagnosed with cancer. While Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, her husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008. They were 28 and 27, respectively, at the time of their diagnosis.

They hope to beat their battles together.

Listen to them talk about their diagnosis in the audio clip here.

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.


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