SIDEBAR: Expect Questions About Support Systems for Unmarried Patients 

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The study finding that unmarried patients with cancer “are at significantly higher risk of presentation with metastatic cancer, undertreatment, and death resulting from their cancer,” generated a lot of comments from colleagues, family members, and patients, the study’s lead author Ayal A. Aizer, MD, MHS, told The ASCO Post.

We’ve had patients we’ve never even met before calling us from different parts of the country because they heard about the study and they have insights that they want to offer. Several patients contacted me and wanted to highlight the message about depression,” Dr. Aizer added. “They thought that their mental status was improved by a spouse, which really got them through the treatment. They felt that just having someone to talk with and share the burden gave them the motivation to get through the treatment, to have something to fight for, something to live for.”

Rallying Support

Physicians can capitalize on the interest in the report to stress the importance of good support systems for patients with cancer and their families. “Anything patients can really be doing to get the support that they need is good. That could mean reaching out to families or friends, just relying on others, rallying support from the community,” Dr. Aizer stated.

“The most important kind of social support is the kind that comes from your friend, your neighbor, somebody who knows and cares about you,” Paul L. Nguyen, MD, added. “We want to empower everybody who has a friend or a loved one with cancer to go to the doctor with their friend and be there for him.”

Dr. Nguyen is Director of Prostate Brachytherapy at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston and Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Aizer, MD, is Chief Resident of the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program.

“What we really want people to start thinking and talking about is that unmarried patients with cancer seem to do more poorly after their diagnosis,” Dr. Aizer said. “This is something that we need to be thinking about as doctors. We should be asking our patients about the support they have if they are not married, and frankly, if they are married, too, and think about ways to get them better supported if it looks like these support systems are lacking for them.” ■

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