A new U.S. study in the journal Cancer, suggests breast cancer patients who have a distressed relationship with their spouse, may face a more trying road to recovery than do other women.
Researchers found patients in distressed marriages had greater stress levels, slower recovery times, less physical activity, and more signs and symptoms of illness than patients who are happily married.
The study involved 100 women who participated in the Stress and Immunity Breast Cancer Project at Ohio State. They completed a survey that measured the quality of their relationship with their spouse every year for five years.
All the participants were living with a partner or married at the start and remained so during the five year period.
After researchers adjusted for the participants’ cancer stage, depression levels, treatment and other factors that could have an impact, the benefit for women in happy marriages remained true.
“A positive diagnosis is devastating for everyone, no matter the quality of your marriage,” said study co-author Hae-Chung Yang, a research associate in psychology at Ohio State University. “But women in good marriages experienced steady reductions in their cancer-related stress, while women in distressed marriages had slower recovery.”
Of the participants, 72 reported having good marriages while 28 said they were in a distressed marriage. At the start, all the women had high levels of cancer-related stress.
While other studies have observed how a cancer diagnosis affects the quality of a marital relationship, this is the first study to examine how the marital relationship affects long-term recovery of breast cancer.
Yang further noted that the study found, as have others, that most women do not see a change in the quality of their marriage after a cancer diagnosis.
“Whether your relationship is good or bad before being diagnosed with cancer, that is not likely to change after the fact,” she said.
But the nature of the marital relationship will strongly influence cancer recovery.
Marital distress is a risk factor for many poor outcomes. It is never too late to work on your marriage – for both your emotional well being, but also for your health.
The National Cancer Institute estimates 184,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2008, of them, 41,000 women will die of the disease.
Another recent study finds alternating mammography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at six-month intervals can detect breast cancers not picked up by mammography alone. #