JAMA Netw Open. 2021 May 3;4(5):e2111813. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.11813.
IMPORTANCE: Married patients with cancer have better cancer-specific survival than unmarried patients. Increasing the early diagnosis and definitive treatment of cancer among unmarried patients may reduce the survival gap.
OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the extent to which marriage is associated with cancer-specific survival, stage at diagnosis, and treatment among patients with 9 common solid cancers and to recommend methods for reducing the survival gap.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This retrospective, population-based cohort study included patients older than 18 years who were diagnosed with 1 of 9 common cancers between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2016. Patient data were retrieved from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. Statistical analyses were performed from August 1 to October 1, 2020.
EXPOSURES: Marital status, classified as married and unmarried (including single, separated, divorced, widowed, and unmarried patients or domestic partners).
MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: The primary outcome was the time ratio (TR) of cancer-specific survival (married vs unmarried). Mediation analyses were conducted to determine the extent to which the association of marriage with cancer-specific survival was mediated by stage at diagnosis and treatment.
RESULTS: This study included 1 733 906 patients (894 379 [51.6%] women; 1 067 726 [61.6%] married; mean [SD] age, 63.76 [12.60] years). Multivariate analyses found that those who were married were associated with better cancer-specific survival than unmarried patients (TR, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.35-1.37). Early diagnosis in breast cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, and melanoma mediated the association between marital status and cancer-specific survival (breast cancer: proportion mediated [PM], 11.4%; 95% CI, 11.2%-11.6%; colorectal cancer: PM, 10.9%; 95% CI, 10.7%-11.2%; endometrial cancer: PM, 12.9%; 95% CI, 12.5%-13.3%; melanoma: PM, 12.0%; 95% CI, 11.7-12.4%). Surgery mediated the association between marital status and cancer-specific survival in lung (PM, 52.2%; 95% CI, 51.9%-52.4%), pancreatic (PM, 28.9%; 95% CI, 28.6%-29.3%), and prostate (PM, 39.3%; 95% CI, 39.0%-39.6%) cancers. Chemotherapy mediated the association of marital status with cancer-specific survival in lung (PM, 37.7%; 95% CI, 37.6%-37.9%) and pancreatic (PM, 28.6%; 95% CI, 28.4%-28.9%) cancers. Improved cancer-specific survival associated with marriage was greater among men than women (men: TR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.25-1.28; women: TR, 1.20; 95% CI, 1.19-1.21). The contribution of receiving an early diagnosis and treatment with surgery or chemotherapy to the association between marital status and cancer-specific survival was greater among men than women (early diagnosis: PM, 21.7% [95% CI, 21.5%-21.9%] vs PM, 20.3% [95% CI, 20.2%-20.4%]; surgery: PM, 26.6% [95% CI, 26.4%-26.7%] vs PM, 11.1% [95% CI, 11.0%-11.2%]; chemotherapy: PM, 6.8% [95% CI, 6.7%-6.8%] vs PM, 5.1% [95% CI, 5.0%-5.2%]).
CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this study, survival disparities associated with marital status were attributable to early diagnosis in breast, colorectal, and endometrial cancers as well as melanoma and to treatment-related variables in lung, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. The findings also suggest that marriage may play a greater protective role in the cancer-specific survival of men than of women.