October 12, 2009 / 10:21 PM / 10 years ago

Children who survived cancer less likely to marry: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The scars of childhood cancer may go beyond the physical with adults who survived cancer as children less likely to get married, according to a U.S. study.

Childhood cancer survivors are known to be at risk of long-term health effects from their cancer treatment including hormone deficiencies, learning impairments and elevated risks of a second cancer or heart disease in adulthood.

But researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, found that some of these effects may also influence the survivors’ odds of getting married.

“Many childhood cancer survivors still struggle to fully participate in our society because of the lasting cognitive and physical effects of their past cancer therapy,” researcher Nina S. Kadan-Lottick said in a statement.

The findings were based on a study of almost 9,000 survivors of childhood cancers between the ages of 18 and 54, plus close to 3,000 of their siblings. Compared with those siblings, cancer survivors were 21 percent more likely to have never married.

Based on U.S. census data, survivors were also 25 percent more likely to have never married than other Americans their age, race and gender.

Across the study group, 46 percent of survivors had never married, versus about 32 percent of both siblings and the general population.

“Our study pinpointed what aspects of the survivor experience likely contribute to altered marriage patterns: short stature, poor physical functioning and cognitive problems,” said Kadan-Lottick.

The study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found men and women who had survived cancer of the brain or spine had the lowest marriage rate, with 62 percent having never married.

The researchers also found that certain lingering effects of radiation — including problems with thinking and memory, impaired growth and poorer physical functioning — seemed to be involved.

On the other hand, survivors of certain other cancers were about as likely as their siblings to marry — including those who suffered lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, bone cancer or kidney cancer.

When it came to divorce, childhood cancer survivors were no more likely than siblings or other U.S. adults to see their marriages end.

“Our results suggest that survivors of childhood cancer need ongoing support even as they enter adulthood,” Kadan-Lottick said.

Reporting by Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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