Prostate cancer patients worry less than their spouses or partners

Researchers at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York have found that, when it comes to worrying about the recurrence of prostate cancer, male patients worry less than their female spouses or partners.

The study was presented at the 30th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in Montreal.

In a study of 96 men and their spouses or partners, Michael Diefenbach, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Urology and Oncological Sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, found that, at the time of prostate cancer diagnosis, the male patients described themselves as "moderately worried" about the chance of their disease recurring, while their female spouses and partners described themselves as "very much" worried.

"We know that illness perception and worries about cancer recurrence influence the emotional well-being of patients. But our studies show that this worry is actually a greater stress on spouses and partners. This research can help us develop programs to address the emotional health of the entire family unit," said Dr. Diefenbach.

For both groups, the concern about recurrence decreased over the next 12 months, though it decreased more for the male patients than it did for their spouses and partners. This led to an even greater disparity after one year than what was observed at the time of diagnosis, with the men describing themselves as "a little bit" worried and their spouses and partners saying they were "moderately worried."

The study also showed that men were less likely to worry about their cancer recurring if they believed that treatment options for their cancer would be effective, while their spouses' and partners' worries were generally unaffected by outside factors.

"For the male patients, the main driver of worry about cancer recurrence was whether they believed that effective treatment was available for their disease," said Dr. Diefenbach. "But for their spouses and partners it was not possible to determine the main driver of worry, as their response was mainly an emotional one. The one factor we could really measure that affects the level of spouse and partner worry is age - in general, the older the spouse or partner, the more concerned they were about cancer recurrence."

Dr. Diefenbach leads a federally funded research program that aims to improve treatment decision making, patient-physician communication and quality of life through innovative patient and family focused programs. He is also the developer of the Prostate Interactive Education System (PIES), a Web tool that helps prostate cancer patients weigh their treatment options.

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