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Female cancer patients more likely to get divorce than male patients

The Nov. 15 issue of Cancer includes a paper with some rather grim findings on how life-threatening illnesses can affect relationships. Researchers studied 515 married patients with cancer or multiple sclerosis, and found that female patients were six times more likely to get divorced or separated following a diagnosis than were men with cancer or MS. As reported by LiveScience:

The study included diagnoses of both cancer and multiple sclerosis and found an overall divorce rate of nearly 12 percent, which is similar to that found in the normal population.
But when the researchers looked at gender differences, they found the rate was nearly 21 percent when women were the patients compared with about 3 percent when men got the life-threatening diagnosis.

The researchers suggest men are less able to commit, on the spot, to being caregivers to a sick partner, while women are better at assuming such home and family responsibilities.

The study authors, who include Stanford neurologist Lawrence Recht, MD, say their results are likely applicable to other people with life-altering medical illness. They conclude in the paper:

Medical providers [should] be especially sensitive to early suggestions of marital discord in couples affected by the occurrence of a serious medical illness, especially when the woman is the affected spouse and it occurs early in the marriage. Early identification and psychosocial intervention might reduce the frequency of divorce and separation, and in turn improve quality of life and quality of care.

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