A recent study conducted in Norway reviewed data from cancer patients in the hopes of determining how spousal characteristics impact cancer survival rates. The study found that survival rates increased as household income increased.
There are many different factors that can impact a cancer patient’s survival rate, such as the type of cancer, its progression, lifestyle, and interestingly enough, marital status. Data has demonstrated that married patients have better cancer survival rates than those without a spouse. In the past, it has been speculated that the mere presence of a partner provides relief and aids the progression of treatment. However, some believe that it is not the presence of a spouse, but specific characteristics they possess that aid in recovery. More specifically, researchers were interested in three key spousal characteristics, those being income level, education level and age, and determining the impact they have on cancer survival rates.
A recent study published in SSM Population Health collected data from approximately 268 000 cancer patients and their spouses. Eligible participants were over the age of 50 at the time of diagnosis, married and lived in Norway between 1975 and 2007. Once identified, researchers conducted monthly observations of these patients until the year 2007 or up until the time of death. Based on the information collected, researchers were able to determine the effect of income level, education level, and age on survival rate. The findings demonstrate that cancer patients with college educated spouses saw an increase in their survival rates, when compared to patients whose spouses had a lower level of education. Specifically, men saw a 17% increase in their likelihood to survive, whereas women saw a 14% increase.
Furthermore, the evidence indicates that generally, as household income increases, the likelihood of survival also increases. However, there were economic factors that impacted men and women differently. For example, men had a higher survival rate when they were the main provider of the household, meaning that they contributed more than 60% to the total household income. Additionally, they saw a decrease in their survival rates when their wives were the breadwinners. Alternatively, the results suggest that for women, those that contribute equally to their household income had the highest chance of survival. On the other hand, women who were financially dependent or the main provider were disadvantaged.
Lastly, the research demonstrates that age also plays a key role in survival rates. Women that were at least five years older than their spouses saw an 11% decrease in their survival rates. Interestingly, men with cancer who were married to older women also saw a decrease in their chances of survival but only by 8%.
These findings indicate that the spousal characteristics of income level, education level, and age impact cancer survival rates. In the future, similar studies should be conducted to confirm these results, as they could impact the treatment of cancer patients around the world.
Written By: Sonia Parmar, BSc
Syse A, Lyngstad TH. 2017. In sickness and in health: the role of marital partners in cancer survival. SSM Popul Health. (3): 99-110.