Cancer patients without partners have greater risk of death

New research has found male and female cancer patients without a partner at diagnosis are more likely to die within 10 years than those with a partner, regardless of their cancer type.

The Cancer Council Queensland and QUT study examined 176,050 cases of the ten leading cancers in Queensland, diagnosed from 1996 to 2012. The study found the chance of death was 26 per cent higher for unpartnered men and 20 per cent higher for unpartnered women than their partnered counterparts, across all cancers.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Professor Jeff Dunn AO said the research showed the beneficial effects of having a partner at diagnosis on cancer survival for cancer patients. “The study showed cancer patients without a partner were not only at increased risk of death from their diagnosed cancer, but also from other causes of death,” Prof Dunn said.


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“This pattern was consistent across the 10 leading cancers examined in Queensland, and independent of cancer stage. The reasons for higher survival in partnered patients still remains unclear, but are likely to include economic, psychosocial, environmental, and structural factors.

“Having a partner has been linked to a healthier lifestyle, greater financial resources and increased practical or social support while undergoing treatment. Support from a partner can also influence treatment choices and increase social support to help manage the psychosocial effects of cancer.

“Health professionals managing cancer patients should be aware of the increased mortality risk among unpartnered patients, and tailor follow-up treatment accordingly.”

Out of the 176,050 patients analysed for the study, 68 per cent had a partner, which included those who were married or in a de facto relationship. The study did not consider changes in partner status since diagnosis.

The survival advantage of having a partner at diagnosis was evident across all cancers, but the magnitude of the effect varied by combination of site and sex. The survival advantage for partnered versus unpartnered men ranged from two per cent (lung cancer) to 30 per cent (head and neck cancers). The survival advantage for partnered versus unpartnered women ranged from two per cent (kidney and lung cancer) to 41 per cent (uterine cancer).

“The results of this study are a reminder for all Queenslanders to seek support for their cancer diagnosis – regardless of whether they are partnered or unpartnered,” Prof Dunn said. “Free resources, advice, referrals to our Cancer Counselling Service offered at no out-of-pocket cost and a listening ear are available from qualified health professionals on 13 11 20. We urge all Queenslanders affected by all cancers to reach out for financial, emotional, and practical assistance.”

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available via 13 11 20 or cancerqld.org.au.