According to a study carried out by experts at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore, which will be presented at the 2012 Chicago Multidisciplinary Symposium in Thoracic Oncology, locally advanced lung cancer patients who are married are more likely to survive than those who are single.

The researchers examined 168 Stage III non-small cell lung cancer patients, which is the most common form of lung cancer. These individuals were treated by radiation and chemotherapy over a decade – between January 2000 and December 2010.

The findings showed that only 10% of single patients were still alive after 3 years, compared to 33% of married patients. Married women were found to have the best rate of survival at 46%, while single men had the worst, 3%. Married men and single women both had a 25% survival rate 3 years later. Patients who were married and caucasian had better chances of survival than married African-Americans.

Elizabeth Nichols, M.D., a resident of radiology oncology at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, commented:

“Martial status appears to be an important independent predictor of survival in patients with locally advanced non-small cell lunch cancer. The reason for this is unclear, but our findings suggest the importance of social support in managing and treating our lung cancer patients. Patients may need help with day to day activities, getting to treatment and making sure they receive proper follow-up care.

We believe that better supportive care and support mechanisms for cancer patients can have a greater impact on increasing survival than many new cancer therapy techniques. Not only do we need to continue to focus on finding new drugs and cancer therapies, but also on ways to better support our cancer patients.”

Steven J. Feigenberg, M.D., an associate professor of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine and senior author of the trial, said: “We need to better understand why marriage is a factor in our patients’ survival. We’re also trying to determine if these findings can be corroborated int he multi-institutional setting.”

Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, added:

“Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death in both men and women, and this study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggests that having a spouse who can act as a caregiver may improve survival for patients with this type of cancer. We must figure out ways to help all of our cancer patients live longer, with a better quality of life, regardless of their martial status.”

A group of radiation oncologists, surgeons and medical oncologists at the Greenebaum Cancer Center examined the patients involved in the study and treated them with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, as well as extra chemotherapy rounds if needed. With an average follow-up time of 16 months, average survival was 13 months. An analysis tool helped the experts to determine overall survival rates – 12% were still alive at 5 years and 21% at 3 years.

Studies prior to this one have discovered that men diagnosed with a variety of cancers, such as prostate, head-and-neck cancers have a lower chance of survival. Rates of survival were examined in 444,000 Norwegian men and women with 13 types of cancer last year. The results showed that men who had never been married had a 35% increased risk of dying. Women who were never married had a 22% more likelihood of dying.

This study suggests that cancer patients who are married have an overall better chance of survival at the 3 year mark, mostly due to the fact that they have spouses helping care for them and looking out for their well-being.

Written by Christine Kearney