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Marriage and divorce among young adult cancer survivors



We examined marital outcomes among cancer survivors diagnosed during early adulthood from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System dataset.


Eligible participants were ages 20–39 years. Of the 74,433 eligible, N = 1,198 self-reported a cancer diagnosis between the ages of 18 and 37, were ≥2 years past diagnosis, and did not have non-melanoma skin cancer. The remaining N = 67,063 were controls. Using generalized linear models adjusted for age, gender, race, and education, we generated relative risks (RR) and 95 % confidence intervals (95 % CI) to examine survivor status on indicators of ever married, currently married, and divorced/separated.


Survivors were slightly older than controls [33.0 (SD = 3.8) vs. 30.0 (SD = 4.0); p < 0.001]. Average time since diagnosis was 7.4 years. Most common diagnoses were cervical (females; 45 %) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (males; 20 %). Survivors were less likely to be currently married than controls (58 % vs. 64 %; RR = 0.92, 95 % CI 0.85–0.99). Among ever married participants, survivors were at an increased risk of divorce/separation than controls (18 % vs. 10 %; RR = 1.77, 95 % CI 1.43–2.19). Divorce/separation risk persisted for female survivors (RR 1.83, 95 % CI 1.49–2.25), survivors ages 20–29 (RR 2.57, 95 % CI 1.53–4.34), and survivors ages 30–39 (RR 1.62, 95 % CI 1.29–2.04).


The emotional and financial burdens of cancer may lead to marital stress for younger cancer survivors.

Implications for cancer survivors

Young survivors may face a higher risk of divorce; support systems are needed to assist them in the years following diagnosis.

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Correspondence to Anne C. Kirchhoff.

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Anne Kirchhoff is supported by the Huntsman Cancer Institute/Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

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Kirchhoff, A.C., Yi, J., Wright, J. et al. Marriage and divorce among young adult cancer survivors. J Cancer Surviv 6, 441–450 (2012).

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  • Young adult cancer survivors
  • Cancer survivorship
  • Marriage
  • Divorce