married couple
A new study by the University of San Diego claimed that marriage helps improve the survival chances of cancer patients.In Picture: Lindsay McElhinney (L) dances with her husband Brandon at a prom organised by The Children's Hospital for cancer patients, in Denver June 8, 2010. The couple are cancer survivors.Reuters

Marriage may help improve the survival chances of cancer patients, a new research by the University of San Diego involving 800,000 people said.

Although the researchers are clueless on how marriage helps cancer patients fight the disease, they are studying various aspects on economic and social support through marriage that could be the key.

"We speculate that it has to do more with issues related to social support than economics," Maria Elena Martinez, the lead author and professor of the University of California, San Diego was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

The research takes into account patients from different ethnicities who had been diagnosed with different types of cancer between 2000 and 2009. The researchers followed up on the patients till 2012.

The study indicated that in terms of insurance status and neighbourhood socioeconomic status, married patients — men and women — benefitted more than the unmarried ones. Although the results varied between the sexes with race and ethnicity, the greatest effect was found on white patients who were not of Hispanic origin.

Among non-Hispanic white male cancer patients, bachelors carried a 24 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than married ones. For women, the mortality was 17 percent higher for the unmarried ones.

Martinez said the study should now investigate the reasons for the positive impact of marriage on cancer survival chances. The social support married patients get involves taking the spouse to appointments, offering support for depression, and administering the medications, among other factors.

"We don't have a handle on what it is in regard to social support that we need to go after to equalise everything," Martinez said, adding that the study highlights the need for unmarried patients to seek social support from family and friends. "We really want to highlight the awareness factor here that unmarried people perhaps could be considered a high-risk, vulnerable population," she added.

Some experts believe the study could be flawed because it doesn't take into account whether the patients married or divorced after their diagnosis, if they were in relationships that did not involve marriage or they had other diseases besides cancer.

They argue that the study was conducted before President Obama launched $1 billion National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, proposed this year to eradicate the disease from the country.