The Unexpected Way Prostate Cancer Affects Women

Mar 20, 2018 at 12:23 p.m. ET
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Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in American men, but a new study shows that the health implications of the condition affect women as well.

According to new research presented at the European Association of Urology conference, nearly half of the wives of men with advanced prostate cancer who participated in the study said their own health has suffered as a result of their husband's diagnosis. In addition to their own physical health worsening, some of the participants also indicated they felt isolated, anxious and fearful about how their lives are changing as a result of their husband's diagnosis.

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Although the effects of prostate cancer have been widely studied in men, there is very little existing research on how it impacts their partners. The treatment for prostate cancer typically involves androgen deprivation therapy — and while it does help to slow the growth of the tumor, it also shuts down production testosterone, which leads to fatigue, frailty and low sexual drive.

The isolation reported by the women in the study frequently happens because their partners are so tired from the treatment they no longer have the energy to leave their house or socialize with friends or family members.

“They also gradually developed a real fear of being alone, even within the relationship," Jeanne Avlastenok, a registered nurse who was an author on the study, said in a statement. "They felt that they had to be strong, which meant that they couldn’t share the burden of the illness."

The women in the study also expressed their concern over their partners experiencing significant pain because of the prostate cancer. Dr. Peter Østergren, a urologist and another author of the study, indicated that while this research was a good start — and will help them determine the right questions to ask in future studies — more work is needed in this area to gain a better understanding of the dynamics between prostate cancer patients and their partners.

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“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. This is good for neither of them," Professor Hein Van Poppel (Leuven, Belgium), EAU adjunct secretary general for education, said in a statement. "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."

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