CHICAGO -- Cancer patients who are single have a 23 percent lower survival rate than married patients do, perhaps because they lack the emotional support married people receive from their spouses, a researcher said.

Doctors have known for a century that married people live longer than unmarried people, but a link between marital status and cancer cases had not been determined, said Dr. James S. Goodwin, the lead researcher.

While the study in Friday's Journal of the American Medical Association found increased longevity in married cancer patients, Goodwin said the reason for that is uncertain. He speculated that married people get stronger emotional support in dealing with stress..

Married people also are generally better off financially, making it easier for them to afford medical care, he said.

Goodwin and colleagues at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque studied 27,779 cancer cases, using data from the New Mexico Tumor Registry. The cases, which occurred between 1969 and 1982, involved 25,706 people because some had multiple cancers. Thirty-two percent of the cases involved unmarried people, said Goodwin, now at the Department of Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Researchers found that being married led to a longer survival time, "comparable to being . . . 10 years younger," the study said.