Does a Cancer Diagnosis Always Lead to Divorce?


As tough as going through a contested divorce in Pasadena is, just imagine doing it while battling cancer. A highly controversial study from 2009 made headlines again last month as bloggers battled out whether women who get diagnosed with cancer are at a greater risk for getting dumped than their male counterparts.

Renewed interest in the study started last month when a blog entitled Cancer Kiss Off: Getting dumped after the diagnosis was published on Writer Diane Mapes recalled her own experience of getting dumped by her then boyfriend after getting diagnosed with breast cancer while citing the study "Gender Disparity in the Rate of Partner Abandonment in Patients with Serious Medical Illness." Conducted by University of Utah Medical School, the survey found that among five hundred patients with brain cancer, multiple sclerosis or a handful of other cancers, marriages were seven times more likely to break up if it was the woman who got the diagnosis.

Critics of the survey have voiced that the findings make husbands appear to be uncaring. Even study author. Dr Marc Chamberlain said the findings made men look like "bottom-dwelling, scum-sucking creatures." He gave Mapes some insight as to why they might be more likely to leave a partner with a serious diagnosis.

"Men may be very well equipped to be primary providers but not so well equipped to be primary caregivers," he says. "I think men are challenged in caring for someone who has disease and treatment-related symptoms - managing the stress, managing the logistics."

While the numbers may not lie, oncologists who watch the cancer battle on a regular basis object to the stereotype that men or women flee their spouses after they get sick.

"I also think it is important to mention those partners or spouses who often blow me away with their support," Dr. Jennifer Litton, an oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said in an interview with "Many of my patients are young, with small children and their husbands are now doing the laundry, handling more childcare responsibilities than they have in the past and many are always there at their wife's or partner's appointments," she said.