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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Stresses Patients' Spouses, Too

When Prostate Cancer Strikes a Husband, His Wife May Be Equally Distressed
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 21, 2007 -- Cancer takes an emotional toll on both partners in a marriage, not just the spouse who is the patient, a new study shows.

That may sound like common sense -- what affects one spouse affects another.

However, the depths of distress seen in the study suggest that spouses often need more help than they get in coping with their partner's cancer.

The report by the University of Michigan's Laurel Northouse, PhD, and colleagues focuses specifically on prostate cancer.

"Doctors, nurses, and even family and friends often focus mainly on the patient who has cancer and don't realize the illness has enormous ramifications on the family, especially the spouse," Northouse says in a news release.

Northouse's advice: Patients and their spouses should "work as a team together to deal with the illness."

Patients, Wives Both Affected

At the heart of the study were 263 prostate cancer patients and their wives. They completed questionnaires about their quality of life.

The stage of the husbands' prostate cancer was a major influence on quality of life.

Quality-of-life ratings were highest for the 170 men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer and their wives, followed by the 33 men with recurrent prostate cancer and their wives. Quality-of-life ratings were lowest for the 60 men with advanced prostate cancer and their wives.

But there was more to it than that.

The patients' wives were as distressed as their spouses about prostate cancer. The wives also reported less social support and less confidence in their ability to manage prostate cancer, compared with the patients themselves.

The researchers call for new programs to help the wives of prostate cancer patients.

The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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