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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Depression Risk for Partners of Breast Cancer Patients

Researchers Say Partners of Cancer Patients Should Be Screened for Depression

Screening Partners for Depression

Johansen and colleagues recommend screening partners of cancer patients for depression.

University of Washington professor of family and child nursing Frances Marcus Lewis, PhD, agrees. Lewis has also studied the emotional impact of breast cancer on the spouses of women being treated for the disease, but her research focused on depressed mood and not major depression.

Her study found an increase in depressed mood even among men whose wives had a low risk of dying from their disease.

Marcus Lewis is currently conducting a larger trial, funded by the National Cancer Institute, designed to identify interventions that can reduce depression among spouses of breast cancer patients.

“This is a cancer that is often perceived as not a big deal for spouses because it is so treatable,” she tells WebMD. “Diseases like late-stage Alzheimer’s get a different type of attention, because the emotional impact on spouses is widely recognized.”

Most of the women in her study had early-stage breast cancers and their chances for survival were very good.

“Even though this was the case, many men worried that they were going to lose their partner,” she says.

Lewis says male partners of breast cancer patients should be involved in discussions with doctors and in decisions about treatment, if the patient is comfortable with this.

And she says couples should set aside a time each week for what she calls “kitchen table discussions” to talk about how each of them is doing.

“I really do believe sharing feelings and thoughts -- even fears and other negative emotions -- can have a big impact on emotional and physical healing,” she says.

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