There's an extra bonus to marriage for melanoma patients: They tend to be diagnosed in earlier, more treatable stages than patients who are unmarried, widowed or divorced, a new study shows.
Spouses may be apt to notice suspicious moles on their partners that could signal melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. More importantly, they may also be more inclined to nag their partners to get those moles checked out, the researchers said.
The findings suggest that unmarried people should ask relatives or friends to do skin checks or seek frequent skin exams with dermatologists.
Why marriage might make a difference in diagnosis isn't clear, since unmarried partners might also notice skin changes. But maybe married people have more opportunities to notice or feel more of a responsibility to keep their partners healthy, said study coauthors Cimarron Sharon and Giorgos Karakousis, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania.
Researchers analyzed 52,000 melanoma patients in a U.S. government cancer database who were diagnosed from 2010 to 2014. Melanoma is more likely than other skin cancers to spread beyond the initial tumor site to other organs, but all the patients had localized disease.
Among married patients studied, almost 47 percent had the smallest, earliest-stage tumors, compared with 43 percent of never-married patients, 39 percent of divorced patients and 32 percent of widowed patients.
Just 3 percent of married participants had the most ominous tumors, compared with almost 10 percent of widowed patients.
The study was published in JAMA Dermatology.