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Marital Separation May Hurt Cancer Survival
Date:8/24/2009

Married and never-married did the best a decade later, study shows

MONDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to surviving cancer, separation from your spouse appears to be worse for your health than divorce or even widowhood, a new study suggests.

In contrast, being married -- or never married -- seems to improve your odds the most.

An analysis of the records of nearly 3.8 million cancer patients found that married people fared the best after being diagnosed with cancer, while separated spouses were about one-third less likely to survive for a decade.

The stress of a separation seems to be key, said study author Gwen Sprehn, a neuropsychologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

"There may be a critical period early in the course of cancer when increases in stress have a particularly adverse effect on the immune system's ability to clear or suppress cancer," she said.

Researchers have known that marriage, in general, is good for a person's health, perhaps because spouses provide physical and emotional support before and during illness.

The findings, which will appear online Aug. 24 in Cancer, will be published in the Nov. 1 print issue of the journal.

After researchers made statistical adjustments to account for possible errors, they found that 36.8 percent of separated people lived for 10 years after cancer diagnosis, compared to 57.5 percent of those who were married. Almost 41 percent of widowed people live for a decade, as did 45.6 percent of those who were divorced and 51.7 percent of those who were never married.

The number of those separated was very small compared to the other groups -- 51,857 compared to 2,184,055 who were married.

Why might separated people die earlier than the widowed?

"The difference may be that the death of a spouse is closer to a natural phase in life," Sprehn said. "Coupled with that, thos
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