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Doctors have discovered a cancer treatment that outranks all others – marriage.

It helps patients with lung cancer live significantly longer than if they were single, giving them a threefold higher chance of surviving at least three years.

On the basis of these results, if marriage were a drug it would be hailed as a miracle cure.

Coming from the UK’s lefty Independent those are three remarkable sentences.

But they only summarise the facts of a US study of 168 patients with advanced lung cancer who were treated with chemotherapy and radiation over a decade from 2000 to 2010. Researchers found that a third of those who were married were still alive after three years compared with 10 per cent of those who were single.

Previous research has shown marriage benefits men more than women, but among these survivors it was women who fared best. Almost half (46 per cent) lived for at least three years if they were married, compared with just 3 per cent of single men.

A similar benefit has been seen in other cancers, including those of the prostate, and head and neck. The researchers from the University of Maryland suggest the marriage effect is down to the support that cancer patients get from a spouse with daily activities, follow-up care and getting to and from hospital appointments.

And, surely, love.

“Marital status appears to be an important independent predictor of survival in patients with locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer. The reason for this is unclear, but our findings suggest the importance of social support in managing and treating our lung cancer patients,” said Elizabeth Nichols, a radiation oncology who led the study.

A reader commenting online on the article wondered whether the effect would be the same if couples were just living together. Good question.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet