Support and counselling services for sufferers of prostate cancer (PCA) should be available to partners as well as patients if they are to have any real effect, say senior psychiatrists.
Dr Jeremy Couper of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne and colleagues said in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia that despite one in 10 Australian men having a lifetime risk of PCA, there have been few studies into the psychosocial impact on patients and their families.
"Clearly the negative psychosocial effects of this cancer represent a major health care issue," Dr Couper says.
Previous studies of this very personal condition that have not involved partners are overlooking key factors surrounding the relationship, he says.
In a new study, Dr Couper and his colleagues interviewed two groups of couples facing PCA treatment over a six-month period.
They found that at the time of diagnosis it was the partners, not the patients, who showed higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders.
As the six month study period progressed the situation reversed, so that the patients were experiencing the higher levels of psychological distress.
Marital satisfaction remained constant in the patients throughout the six months, but their partners showed increasing dissatisfaction at the end of the study.
Despite this, Dr Couper says the willingness of the patients and their partners to participate in the study shows a strength and resilience.
"The perseverance shown by most of the patients and partners, especially in answering highly personal questions... at a demanding time, suggests that couples facing PCA construe the situation as a crucial challenge in their lives together," he said.
"Our findings suggest the value of a couple-focused counselling program, similar to that devised and applied for couples facing breast cancer.
"A preventive intervention of this type could help the growing number of middle-aged and older men affected by PCA and their partners to... enjoy productive lives together."