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Marital Distress May Affect Breast Cancer Recovery

THURSDAY Dec. 18, 2008 -- Marriage problems are associated with poorer outcomes for women with breast cancer, a new U.S. study finds.

The researchers found that women in troubled marriages had higher levels of stress, less physical activity, slower recovery and more symptoms and signs of illness than women who reported good marriages. The research involved 100 women who were married or living with a partner at the start of the study and remained in the relationship during the five years of follow-up.

The findings were published online and will appear in a future print issue of Cancer.

The benefits for women in good marriages held true even after the researchers adjusted for the participants' depression levels, cancer stage, treatment and other factors that could have an influence.

"The quality of the marital relationship may not be the first thing women worry about when they get a cancer diagnosis. But it may have a significant impact on how they cope physically and emotionally," study co-author Hae-Chung Yang, a research associate in psychology at Ohio State University, said in a university news release. "Our results suggest that the increases in stress and other problems that come with a distressed marital relationship can have real health consequences and lead to poorer recovery from cancer."

Of the 100 women in the study, 72 reported having good marriages and 28 reported distressed marriages. At the start of the study, all the women had high and nearly equal levels of cancer-related stress.

"When you're diagnosed, that's devastating for everyone, regardless of the quality of your marriage," Yang said. "But women in good marriages saw steady reductions in their cancer-related stress, while women in distressed marriages had a much slower recovery."

As in previous studies, this one found that most women don't see a change in the quality of their marriage after they've been diagnosed with cancer.

"Whether you have a good or bad relationship before being diagnosed with cancer, that is not likely to change afterwards," Yang said.

"Clearly, marital distress is a risk factor for numerous poorer outcomes, and it is never too late to work to improve your marriage, not only for your emotional well-being but also for your health," she added.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers tips for coping with breast cancer.

Posted: December 2008


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