A diagnosis of prostate cancer may take as great a toll on wives' well-being as it does men's, new research suggests.
In a study of 263 prostate cancer patients and their wives, researchers found that the disease seemed to affect both partners' emotional well-being and quality of life to a similar degree.
Men, not surprisingly, reported more problems with their physical well-being. But their wives reported as many, or even more, difficulties with other aspects of quality of life.
Women whose husbands had advanced prostate cancer showed the poorest emotional well-being overall - even worse than their husbands', the study authors report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Unfortunately, there are currently "very few resources" available to help cancer patients and their spouses deal with distress, according to lead study author Dr Laurel Northouse, of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Ann Arbor.
Spouses not assessed
Doctors and other health providers are generally focused on the patient, and typically do not assess the spouse's emotional well-being, she told Reuters Health. And spouses themselves are unlikely to try to draw attention to their own problems.
"The end result," Northouse noted, "is that spouses are expected to be the primary caregiver to the patient, but obtain little help - information or support - to carry out this important role, or with managing their own distress."
Couples do not all face the same problems, however. Northouse and her colleagues found that the types of difficulties varied based on the stage of the husband's cancer.
When the husband was newly diagnosed, physical symptoms like urinary incontinence and sexual dysfunction seemed to have the largest effect on the couple's quality of life.
Different stages of the disease
When the husband had been treated and was showing early signs of possible recurrence, anxiety and worsening emotional well-being tended to be the greatest problems. Couples in which the husband had advanced prostate cancer were dealing with the substantial symptoms of the disease and treatment - like pain and fatigue - as well as severe emotional distress.
All of this suggests that couples need help that is tailored to the stage of the husband's disease, according to Northouse and her colleagues.
But whatever the stage of the disease, both spouses should be given information on the disease, how to manage its symptoms and how to deal with their own distress, Northouse said.
She also recommended that couples "work as a team" and support each other, as well as seek help from support groups or from family and friends if they need it. - (Amy Norton/ReutersHealth)
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, September 20, 2007.