Washington: A woman is six times more likely than a man to be dumped if she gets diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis, according to a study that examined the role gender played in so-called "partner abandonment."
The study found that a woman has more chances of being separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is the patient.
The study also found that the longer the marriage the more likely it would remain intact.
The study confirmed earlier research that put the overall divorce or separation rate among cancer patients at 11.6 percent, similar to the population as a whole.
However, researchers were surprised by the difference in separation and divorce rates by gender.
The rate when the woman was the patient was 20.8 percent compared to 2.9 percent when the man was the patient.
"Female gender was the strongest predictor of separation or divorce in each of the patient groups we studied," said Dr. Marc Chamberlain, a co-corresponding author and director of the neuro-oncology program at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA).
Why men leave a sick spouse can be partly explained by their lack of ability, compared to women, to make more rapid commitments to being caregivers to a sick partner and women``s better ability to assume the burdens of maintaining a home and family, said the authors.
The study enrolled a total of 515 patients in 2001 and 2002, who were followed until February 2006.
The men and women were in three diagnostic groups: those with a malignant primary brain tumor (214 patients), those with a solid tumor with no central nervous system involvement (193 patients) and those with multiple sclerosis (108 patients). Almost half of the patients were women.
The results showed a stronger gender disparity for divorce when the wife was the patient in the general oncology and multiple sclerosis groups (93 percent and 96 percent respectively, compared to 78 percent for the primary brain tumor group).
The older the woman was the more likely her partnership would end. However, longer marriages remained more stable.
"We believe that our findings apply generally to patients with life-altering medical illness," wrote the authors.
The study is published in an upcoming issue of the journal Cancer.