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Study ties certain cancers, divorce rate

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[September 28, 2007]  BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- People who develop cervical or testicular cancer may face another harsh reality: They are more likely to get divorced than those without the disease, a new study says.

In research presented Thursday at a meeting of the European Cancer Organization, Norwegian experts found cancer patients were no more likely to get divorced than people without cancer, except for those with cervical and testicular cancer. The divorce rate actually dropped slightly in the years following diagnosis for most cancers, they said.

But the study showed women with cervical cancer had a 40 percent higher chance of getting divorced than other women. Men with testicular cancer were 20 percent more likely to get divorced than similar men without cancer. Both types of cancer are curable and are diagnosed at younger ages than other cancers.

The researchers didn't have any information on why the couples divorced. Experts thought that the breakups could be due both to the cancers, and to the youth of the couples involved. Older couples might be more committed to each other and less likely to get divorced even when faced with a serious illness.

The researchers said the risk of divorce among those with cervical or testicular cancer dropped with age.

"It seems to be worse for your marriage to get cancer early," said Astri Syse, an epidemiologist at the Norwegian Cancer Registry who led the study.

The researchers looked at 2.8 million people, comparing the divorce rates of 215,000 cancer survivors and couples with no cancer. They did not ask about the reasons for the divorces, but only looked at marriage and divorce registration data between 1974 and 2001.

The researchers said since Norway's divorce rate is the same as other developed countries the results may apply elsewhere.

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Lesley Fallowfield, a professor of psycho-oncology at Sussex University who was not connected to the study, said that because sex is a particularly important way for young couples to cement their relationship, a cancer diagnosis that affects a couple's sex life might be very damaging.

"No patient develops cancer in a social vacuum," she said. "The diagnosis will always have an impact on a loved one, and in some cases, they may decide to leave."

Syse said that her study was good news for some cancer patients.

"There's a myth that if you get breast cancer, your husband will leave you," she said. In fact, she and her colleagues found that survivors of breast cancer were less likely to get divorced than similar women without the disease.

Another study presented Wednesday at the Barcelona meeting found that children of cancer patients were so affected by the news of their parent's diagnosis that they had post-traumatic stress symptoms years later.

"We clearly need to be looking closer at how cancer affects a patient's loved ones," Fallowfield said. "There is more to treating cancer than just medical care."


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[Associated Press; by Maria Cheng]

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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