Americans Living Alone Have a Higher Risk of Cancer Mortality

Americans who live alone, and face social isolation, have more negative health outcomes and a greater chance of dying from cancer in numerous socio-demographic categories than those who live with others, says a new stud

In 2022, approximately 38 million households were filled with people living alone, which was an increase from seven million households in 1960. Adults who live alone are more likely to be older, non-Hispanic white or non-Hispanic Black, males and have earnings below the federal poverty threshold. They are also more likely to have poor health, smoke, drink, be severely obese, and have a mental illness.

The risk factor was recently investigated in an observational study by researchers at the American Cancer Society.

Previous studies have shown an association between living alone and cancer mortality, but findings by sex and race/ethnicity have generally been inconsistent, and data by socioeconomic status are sparse.

- Hyunjung Lee, lead author of the study

Lee says that the study's findings highlight the need to address loneliness in both the general community and among cancer survivors and advocate for treatments to lessen its negative consequences and social isolation. To conduct this study, researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey and the National Death Index for 473,648 persons who were 18 to 64 years old at the time of enrollment from 1998 to 2019. To determine the hazard ratios (HRs) for the correlation between living alone and cancer mortality, the study period lasted for up to 22 years.

The reality of living alone in America

Overall, the findings indicated that compared to those living with others, adults who lived alone had a 1.32 times risk of cancer death. In comparison to men living with others, men who lived alone had a 1.38 times greater chance of dying from cancer, while women who lived alone had a 1.30 times higher risk. Middle-aged people who lived alone had a 1.43 times greater risk of death than those who shared housing. Additionally, non-Hispanic white individuals and adults with higher education levels showed a more significant correlation between living alone and the risk of dying from cancer than racial/ethnic minorities and those with lesser education.

After taking into account variations in a wide range of sociodemographic, behavioral, and health factors, this connection was maintained among non-Hispanic white adults and adults with higher education levels but not for racial/ethnic minorities and people with lower education.

These results may indicate that the connection between living alone and mortality rates in racial/ethnic minorities and individuals with lower socioeconomic levels was lessened by higher social support from the community in these groups.

According to Lee, the findings highlight the need for greater clinician training and resources, integrated screening for social isolation and living alone, as well as further research to find and implement therapies that might lessen the negative consequences of social isolation and living alone.

The team concludes: "Some examples include patient navigation programs for this population to increase uptake of and adherence to cancer screening, timely diagnosis, treatment, and attendance of medical appointments, and the inclusion of this group among high priority groups for services based on screenings for the health-related social needs."

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