Marriage rates differ only slightly in childhood cancer survivors

August 30, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Children who survive cancer have a slightly lower rate of marriage when they reach adulthood than the general population, although the rate varies somewhat by sex and race, new research shows.

Marriage and divorce rates of cancer survivors are important hallmarks of a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood and indicators of the ability to gain independence from the family and establish an intimate relationship.

Among survivors aged 40 and above, for example, 90 percent of female cancer survivors were ever married compared with 91.3 percent in the general population. Among males in the same age group, 92 percent of survivors were married versus 86 percent in the general population.

"This study confirms what oncologists see in practice, that by and large, these kids grow up, enter society normally, and have normal marital relationships," said Amanda Rauck, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University.

The preliminary findings are also important because they involved a large number of patients -- 10,425 -- who were treated at 27 oncology centers in the United States and Canada. The data was collected as part of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study.

"The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study is so large it is giving us information on rarer tumors and on ethnic groups," said Rauck.

Rauck, who works at Children's Hospital in Columbus, is lead author of the work, which was reported in the July issue of Medical and Pediatric Oncology.

The study involved children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer between 1970 and 1986 and who survived at least 5 years after diagnosis. The mean age at diagnosis was 7; the mean age at the time marital status was determined was 26.

Rauck and her colleagues looked at the rates of "ever married" and "divorced/separated" in six age groups, ranging from 15 to 40 and above. The data for each age group was examined by sex, by race (white, Black, and Hispanic), those with central nervous system (CNS) tumors, and the total in each age group.

The study found that females and whites were less likely to have married than their counterparts in the general population, while males and Hispanics were equally likely, and Blacks were more likely to have married.

Those with CNS tumors were less likely to have married than those with other cancer diagnoses and those of similar age in the general population.

This was not surprising, said Rauck, because the treatment these individuals received for their childhood brain tumors often produced permanent after-effects such as decreased intellectual ability, and memory and neuropsychological problems.

In general, participants in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study had lower divorce and separation rates than did controls.

Males, however, were somewhat more likely to be divorced, while females were less likely. The rates tended to be lower for whites and somewhat higher for Blacks, while the rate in Hispanics was equal to that of the general population.

The full Childhood Cancer Survivor Study will take several more years to complete. Future studies will provide information on such things as employability, insurability, the long-term effects of treatment, and the risks of having children.

Ohio State University

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