Widowers May Have Increased Risk of Advanced Prostate Cancer

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Widowers were more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer that had distant metastases, according to recent research.

Widowers may be more likely than married men or men in relationships to receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Additionally, the disease is more likely to be metastatic at diagnosis, according to a review of 12 studies.

“While being in a committed relationship is associated with a better prostate cancer prognosis, little is known about how marital status relates to its incidence,” the researchers wrote.

The review, which was published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, analyzed 14,760 men who were recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and 12,019 healthy men. Findings showed that widowed men were 1.19 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than married men or men with partners.

Regarding severity of the disease, widowers were 1.14% more likely to have localized disease, 1.53% more likely to have regional disease and 1.56% more likely to have prostate cancer with distant metastases.

“This large group of subjects showed us that widowers were at risk of being diagnosed later than married men or men in relationships. As a result, when the diagnosis is made, the disease has often metastasized elsewhere in the body,” said study author Charlotte Salmon, a PhD student at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (IRNS), in a statement.

Salmon and the research team theorized that since living with a partner promotes a healthier lifestyle – which has been proven in previous studies – men who live alone may have fewer healthy habits and may not follow up with their doctor and screening appointments.

“Without a spouse’s encouragement to see a doctor or get screened if there are symptoms, cancers remain undetected longer and may be diagnosed at a more advanced stage. This makes the prognosis bleaker,” Salmon said.

Individuals who do not have a spouse or partner should seek the support from family and friends when it comes to living a healthier lifestyle, as well as ensure that they are keeping their medical appointments, screenings and check-ups. “Social support interventions and closer medical follow-up in this sub-population are warranted,” the researchers wrote.

Another theory is that men may consume more alcohol or unhealthy food after their spouse dies, as well as experience physical and emotional impacts from bereavement.

This is not the first study that showed that married individuals have better cancer outcomes than their single or widowed counterparts. A few years ago, research conducted at Yale University found that married patients with liver cancer survived about 40% longer than those who were never married.

Additionally, a 2016 study published in Cancer discovered that cancer-related death rates were 27% higher in unmarried men and 19% higher for unmarried women compared to men and women, respectively, who were married.

Future studies should seek to improve understanding of the correlation between marital status and prostate cancer risk and analyze the prostate cancer risk by the amount of people living in a home, family structure, living environment and other social factors, the researchers said.

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