Being married cuts your risk of skin cancer death

  • University of Pennsylvania dermatologist studied 50,000 American skin cancer patients 
  • They found that, of those who were married, 45.7% had a stage 1, which has a 98% survival rate
  • Early diagnosis rates dropped 32% for singles, 38% for divorced, and 70% for widowed patients 

Married couples are less likely to die of skin cancer because they spot warning signs earlier than singles, new research has found.

A study of 50,000 American skin cancer patients found that, of those who were married, 45.7 percent had stage 1 tumors, which have a 98 percent survival rate.

The chance of catching the disease so early dropped 32 percent for single patients, 38 percent for divorced, and a staggering 70 percent for widowed.

The University of Pennsylvania researchers admitted they were stunned by the stark difference in diagnoses.

They said the findings should help dermatologists tailor their advice to patients, suggesting screening at an earlier age for single patients and inviting partners into clinic appointments for home-screening training.

A study of 50,000 American skin cancer patients found that, of those who were married, 45.7 percent had a stage 1, which has a 98 percent survival rate

Rates of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, are expected to rise seven percent by 2035.

There were 95,000 new diagnoses of melanoma in 2015, and 15,900 in the UK.  

Five year survival is reported to be over 98 percent for patients diagnosed with stage I disease – dropping to 62 percent for stage III disease. 

Earlier prognosis worsens the longer a tumor is left undetected. However, the symptoms can often be hard to spot. 

The University of Pennsylvania study, published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, sought to investigate how lifestyle and relationships could affect patients’ early detection chances. 

The results were stark, though logical.  

‘Spouses likely facilitate early detection of melanomas by assisting in identification of pigmented lesions that may have otherwise gone unnoticed,’ said corresponding author Dr Cimarron Sharon, a dermatologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

‘They may also provide support and encouragement to see a physician for evaluation.

‘Thus, married patients are likely to receive a better prognosis because of earlier surgical management.’

The study found married patients were also 59, 87 and 69 percent more likely to have an SLNB (sentinel lymph node biopsy) than single, divorced or widowed counterparts respectively.

The surgical procedure is also linked to survival as the sentinel lymph node is closest to a tumor and the first place it would spread.

Dr Sharon said this could be ‘associated with the spouse’s role in supporting the patient and engaging in further discussion.’

Without a partner patients may also have difficulty facilitating travel to and from hospital and may not have anyone to assist in care afterwards.

The study published in JAMA Dermatology said previous research has suggested cancer patients who have partners tend to fare better overall.

But this is the largest of its kind into the influence of marriage on the detection of melanoma.

Using a US cancer database called SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results) it looked at more than 52,063 men and women aged 52 to 75 who were diagnosed with the disease from 2010 to 2014 and whose marital status was recorded.

Dr Sharon said: ‘These findings support increased consideration of spousal training for partner skin examination and perhaps more frequent screening for unmarried patients.’

The findings follow a Swedish study four years ago that found men who live alone are 42 percent less likely to spot the disease in its early stages – and 31 per cent more likely to die from it.

Older women living alone also had more advanced disease on average at their first diagnosis.

A raft of previous research has suggested marriage is good for health – including reducing the risk of depression and heart disease.

Dr Sharon said: ‘Marital status should be considered when counseling patients for melanoma procedures and when recommending screening and follow-up to optimize patient care.’