Articles in the medical literature and lay press have supported a belief that individuals, including those dying of cancer, can temporarily postpone their death to survive a major holiday or other significant event.
However, results and effects have been variable.
Dr Young and Dr Hade from Ohio, America undertook a study in order to determine whether a "death takes a holiday" effect is observed when looking at the number of deaths in the week before a significant event.
The research team analyzed the number of deaths before and after Christmas, the US holiday of Thanksgiving, and the date of the individual’s birthday.
The researchers analyzed death certificate data for all 1 269 474 persons dying in Ohio from 1989-2000, including 309 221 persons dying with cancer noted as the leading cause of death.
The research team measured the total number of cancer deaths in the 2 weeks centered on the event of interest and the proportion of these deaths that occurred in the week before the event.
| Black individuals show an increase in cancer deaths in the week before Thanksgiving|
The researchers determined whether this proportion was significantly different from 0.5 by using an exact binomial test.
The investigators found that the proportion of persons dying of cancer in the week before Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the individual’s birthday was not significantly different from the proportion dying in the week after the event.
However, the researchers noted that among black individuals there was an increase in cancer deaths in the week before Thanksgiving.
In addition, the researchers found that women showed an increase in cancer deaths in the week before their birthday.
There was no statistically significant excess of deaths in the post-event week in any subgroup.
Dr Young concluded, "We found no evidence, in contrast to previous studies, that cancer patients are able to postpone their deaths to survive significant religious, social, or personal events."