Wives of Men with Prostate Cancer Express Concerns with Their 'New Normal' Too

Women felt that they could not show emotions of fear or vulnerability in front of their husbands or children.

A prostate cancer diagnosis can often have effects of sexual impairment, psychosocial issues and financial toxicities for men. But what about its impact on the wives of men with prostate cancer? A recent European study addressed just that.

“Many prostate cancer patients have a hard time, both physically and emotionally, and this work shows that this stress can spill over and affect wives and partners,” professor Hein Van Poppel, European Association for Urology Adjunct Secretary General for Education, said in a press release. “This is good for neither of them. Good mental and emotional health needs to be part of how we judge a treatment, and we need to try to ensure that both patients and their partners get the support they both need.”

Danish researchers at Herlev and Gentofte University Hospital questioned 56 women — whose husbands had prostate cancer and were undergoing exercise therapy to maintain body strength and resilience during prostate cancer treatment – to determine the impact their husband’s diagnosis had on their own mental and physical health.

Overall, 26 women (46 percent) reported that their health was affected by their husbands’ cancer.

The researchers then conducted a focus subgroup by randomly selecting eight women for in-depth interviews.

“We worked with the women as a group, encouraging them to be open about what they felt in a supportive group environment,” study author Jeanne Avlastenok, RN — who also presented the results at the 2018 European Association of Urology conference in Copenhagen last month – said in a press release.

The three women whose husbands had early-stage disease were less stressed and burdened compared with partners of men with advanced stage disease. However, all eight women them reported concerns that, as the disease progressed, their loved ones would develop pain.

Women also reported feelings of social isolation that stemmed from their husbands’ treatment-related fatigue — a common side effect of androgen deprivation therapy – that frequently prevented them from socializing as a couple. As a result, the wives felt cut off from social support.

“They also gradually developed a real fear of being alone, even within the relationship. They felt that they had to be strong, which meant that they couldn’t share the burden of the illness,” Avlastenok said.

Not to mention, women felt that they could not show emotions of fear or vulnerability in front of their husbands or children. This became increasingly difficult as the wives’ roles changed along with the progression of their spouses’ disease, and their partners were no longer able to take on some of their usual responsibilities.

“As their men became less able to fulfill their usual roles, the women had to undertake tasks which had previously fallen to the men. Many of these are simple tasks but for the women they represented a sea (of) change in the way their lives were structured,” Avlastenok said.

These findings point toward the need for health care providers to be more aware of the physical and emotional health of not only their patients, but also their loved ones who are caring for them. The researchers are hoping that their study will pave the way for more research in this area.

“But in any study, you need to do the qualitative work before moving to any larger sample”, study author Peter Østergren, M.D., department of Urology at the Herlev Hospital, said in the release. “We needed to let the women express their concerns first, so we can understand which questions to ask.”