Do prostate cancer diagnoses undermine the health of patients’ partners? A team of Danish researchers says “yes.”
Led by Jeanne Avlastenok and Peter Østergren from Herlev and Gentofte University Hospital, a team of Danish researchers found that partners of prostate cancer patients often feel isolated and fearful and worry about the way their roles change as their loved one’s cancer progresses.
Results from the study were recently presented at the European Association of Urology (EAU) Conference, which took place in Copenhagen, Denmark on March 16 to 20, 2018.
The team worked with the wives and partners of prostate cancer patients who had been undergoing exercise therapy to maintain resilience and body strength during their treatment.
The study included 56 women who were questioned on how prostate cancer was affecting the lives of their partners. About 46 percent of the respondents said that their partner’s health problems had injured their own health.
After a first questionnaire, the team randomly selected eight women for a more in-depth, focus-group style interview, to encourage these women to express how they are being affected by their partners’ disease.
“We worked with the women as a group, encouraging them to be open about what they felt in a supportive group environment,” Avlastenok said in a press release.
Three of the women, whose husbands were still in the early stage of the disease, “were less burdened than the others,” Avlastenok said. “But the remaining five expressed some significant concerns. Many felt increasingly socially isolated. Their husbands were fatigued both by the illness and by the treatment, which meant that they couldn’t socialize as a couple, which made the women feel cut off from social support.”
The women also gradually developed a fear of being alone, and worried about the way their role in the relationship changed.
“As their men became less able to fulfill their usual roles, the women had to undertake tasks which had previously fallen to the men. Many of these are simple tasks, but for the women, they represented a sea change in the way their lives were structured,” Avlastenok said.
Common to all participants was the concern that their partners would develop significant pain as the disease progressed.
Limitations of this study include the small size of the sample. However, the researchers see the qualitative work as a necessary step before moving to larger samples.
“We needed to let the women express their concerns first, so we can understand which questions to ask,” Østergren said .
The Danish study is among the first to focus on how prostate cancer affects the quality of life and health of the partners of prostate cancer patients.
Professor Hein van Poppel, adjunct secretary general for education at EAU, who was not involved in the study, said it shows how the stress caused by prostate cancer can spill over and affect the partners’ lives as well. The results could help inform future best practice guidelines.
“This is good for neither of them,” van Poppel said. “Good mental and emotional health needs to be part of how we judge a treatment, and we need to try to ensure that both patients and their partners get the support they both need.”