Prostate Cancer is a “Couples Disease,” Scientists Say

Prostate Cancer is a “Couples Disease,” Scientists Say

When a man has prostate cancer, his partner may feel the effects, too.

Those effects might not be direct, but they can greatly change a partner’s quality of life, according to a recent article in Urologic Nursing.

Prostate cancer is a “slow-growing disease,” the authors explained. Most men have a good prognosis, and treatment often focuses on a man’s quality of life in addition to the cancer itself.

Treatment can have side effects, however. Urinary incontinence and sexual problems frequently occur, and they may be permanent. Past research has analyzed patients’ views on their treatment. But for partners, little was known.

For the current study, researchers looked at 13 peer-reviewed, medical articles concerning prostate cancer and partners, focusing on papers that included comments from partners themselves.

Reading through the partner quotations, the researchers noticed some common threads (quotations from partners are in italics):

  • Sexuality. Many partners felt that the man’s survival was more important than his sexual functioning. Often, patients felt frustrated by sexual limitations, but partners still felt love and intimacy regardless.

We’ve come to an arrangement now with our sex life that we’re quite happy to have a cuddle and you know we get on well; we’re good mates and that’s what counts.

  • Knowledge. Some partners said they were unsure of what to expect from the man’s diagnosis and treatment and felt “in the dark.” The information they did receive tended to be “generalized and scaled down.”

I was pretty upset…I asked the doctor what is this gonna do to his sex life…and he never really addressed it.

I definitely think…some-where in those early stages… [if someone] suggested…seeing someone or seeing a counsellor, it would have made a big difference for me…for both of us.

  • Isolation. The possible loss of their significant other was a source of great stress for partners. And the time partners spent caregiving left little time and for themselves.

I got very sad to see him like that, but I tried to be strong and say, “I think that the last thing he wants is to see that someone feels defeated, right? I put my pains aside…I had to shower him. I had to change him. I had to help him in all that I could, right?

I was extremely afraid of hurting [patient], and I was afraid of hurting myself as well. I was so focused on him that, in a way, I forgot myself. In retrospect, I have cried very little (tearful).

  • Togetherness. In time, some partners felt closer to their significant others after the cancer diagnosis. Communication and acceptance played key roles in this togetherness.

We have said many times that we have been blessed. We have a wonderful family. We have gone together and been married for over fifty years. We just feel very blessed that the Lord has given us these wonderful kids and grandkids. He (her husband) has said many times, “If I die tomorrow, I will have lived a wonderful life.” And that is really how I feel, too.

“Findings from this review may serve to increase the shared decision-making process between the patient, his partner, and the healthcare provider,” the authors concluded.


Urologic Nursing via Medscape

Hammond, Andrew and Kristen Montgomery

“Systematic Review and Thematic Synthesis of Quality of Life in Partners of Patients With Prostate Cancer”

(Full-text. July-August 2018)