As many prostate-cancer survivors have discovered, the lifesaving benefits of surgery, radiation and hormone therapy can come with a cost.
All three treatments may bring on sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence. In addition, by depriving the body of testosterone, long-term hormone therapy can blunt a man's sex drive, sap his energy and trigger mood swings. These and other quality-of-life adjustments affect patients as well as their partners and aren't easily resolved in the doctor's office, says Tia Higano, M.D., a University of Washington (UW) prostate-cancer specialist and associate in clinical research at Fred Hutchinson.
Higano decided she wanted to do more to help.
She found her answer in UW psychologist Sylvie Aubin, Ph.D. Aubin sits in on Higano's patient consults and offers prostate-cancer patients and their partners a "toolbox" of strategies to cope with challenges that are often hard to talk about. They see their patients at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, a patient-care partnership of Fred Hutchinson, the UW and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center located on the Fred Hutchinson campus.
"Men can live a long time after treatment for prostate cancer, and they deserve to have a good quality of life," said Aubin, an acting instructor in the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. "But it's often very hard to get men to open up about these problems, which is the first step. Once I open the door for them to do that, my role is to be a 'tool person' — to provide patients and partners with a collection of strategies to help them deal with these challenges."
Aubin and Higano plan to measure the benefits of those interventions in the coming months in a research study.