• widowhood;
  • marital status;
  • morbidity;
  • cancer;
  • oncology



This study investigated the long-term risk of psychological morbidity for men after losing a wife to cancer. A further aim of the study was to investigate if being in a new relationship at the time of follow-up affects the risk of psychological morbidity.


In a population-based cohort study, we collected data from 907 men in Sweden who lost a wife to cancer in the breast, ovary or colon 4–5 years earlier. A control group of 330 married men was also included.


Six hundred ninety-one of the widowers (76%) and 262 of the controls (79%) answered a questionnaire. Widowers in a new relationship had a similar risk of psychological morbidity compared with a control group of married men. However, compared with widowers in a new relationship, single widowers reported increased risks of (among other symptoms) the following: depression (RR 2.2, confidence interval [CI] 1.5–3.2), anxiety (RR 1.6, CI 1.1–2.5) emotional numbness (RR 2.2, CI 1.7–2.8), and waking up at night with anxiety (RR 2.2, CI 1.4–3.7).


Men who lost a wife to cancer in Sweden in 2000 or 2001 and are single 4–5 years later have increased risks of psychological morbidity, both compared with widowers who are in a new relationship at the time of follow-up and with married men. Further scientific effort is needed for improved understanding of the most likely underlying mechanisms; that is, that enhanced emotional support of a new relationship after the loss of a wife protects against psychological morbidity, or alternatively, that the healthiest widowers enter a new relationship. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.