Prostate cancer patients, spouses report similar emotional distress

October 4, 2007

Spouses of prostate cancer patients report similar physical and emotional quality of life as the patient, suggests a study from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor. The factors having the greatest impact on emotional distress in both patients and spouses were a new diagnosis, facing a recurrence, or living with advanced disease, the researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2007; 25:4171-7).

Spouses of prostate cancer patients report similar physical and emotional quality of life as the patient, suggests a study from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor. The factors having the greatest impact on emotional distress in both patients and spouses were a new diagnosis, facing a recurrence, or living with advanced disease, the researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2007; 25:4171-7).

In the study, the team looked at 263 men with prostate cancer and their spouses. Both the men and their wives completed questionnaires that assessed quality of life, including physical, social, family, emotional, and functional issues.

The researchers found little difference in quality of life between patients and spouses, but found significant differences based on the phase of their illness. Couples coping with advanced disease had significantly poorer overall quality of life.

"The spouses of advanced cancer patients are really carrying the load," said lead author Laurel Northouse, PhD, RN, who worked on the study with James Montie, MD, and colleagues. "Cancer is a devastating illness, and a patient's primary resource is the partner, who often doesn't have the information she needs to deal with these complex problems. This isn't just a common cold-this is the person you love and care about dealing with a life-threatening illness."

Spouses reported lower confidence than patients in their ability to manage the illness, and more uncertainty about the illness. Patients also reported more social support than did spouses.

The researchers urge more health care interventions aimed at emotional distress for both patients and caregivers. At the same time, caregivers should recognize they too are emotionally affected by this illness and seek appropriate support. Patients also can play a role by encouraging their spouse to be actively involved in their care.