Having a spouse or partner may give patients an edge in coping with prostate cancer.

"Regardless of age, ethnicity, disease stage, or treatment type, being in a marital-type relationship was associated with significantly better quality of life," John L. Gore, MD, and colleagues write in the July 1, 2005, issue of the journal Cancer.

In addition, the partnered men were better at coping with cancer-related symptoms in general.

"Mental health scores in partnered patients were fully eight points higher than the scores of single men," the researchers write.

The study was a California state-funded program that provides free prostate cancer treatment. The researchers evaluated several measures of quality of life, mental health, and tolerance of cancer symptoms.

They show that of the 291 low-income men with prostate cancer, those in personal relationships reported better mental health and spiritual well-being, as well as fewer urinary symptoms, than single men.

"Partnered patients" included those who reported living with a spouse or partner, as well as those who were in a significant relationship but not living together.

Being in a relationship enhances quality of life and eases the physical and psychological impact of cancer, they write.

They say their findings are limited by the fact that the study involved only men who were severely impoverished. "Coping strategies that benefit health, including optimism, a sense of personal control, and social support, are less available to patients of low socioeconomic status," they write.

"Single participants in our study may represent a particularly isolated cohort of men with prostate cancer, and our results may not be generalizable to others."

The authors conclude that understanding the link between relationships and quality of life "can help guide strategies that may benefit both partnered and unpartnered men."

Health care workers should address the importance of social support in coping with cancer "to encourage the beneficial aspects of partnership and to overcome the detrimental effects of being single," they write.

By Sherry Rauh, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Gore, J. Cancer, May 23, 2005, online edition. News Release, John Wiley & Sons Inc.