Tuesday, May 24, 2005

There’s a new secret weapon in the battle against prostate cancer: A wife.

The University of California at Los Angeles announced yesterday that married prostate cancer patients have “significantly improved quality of life” over their single counterparts when facing the rigors of treatment and its aftermath.

Married patients experience an improved sense of “spiritual well-being,” fewer adverse effects from treatment and less anxiety about the disease, according to new research. Married men even have less distressing symptoms.

“The message for men with prostate cancer is this: It is good to be partnered and have a support system following treatment,” said Dr. Mark Litwin, a urologist with the university’s Jonsson Cancer Center.

Prostate cancer is the second-deadliest cancer for men and will strike 232,090 of them this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

The helpful potential of a spouse is particularly significant for male patients themselves, who are often reluctant to seek outside supportive help. Among prostate cancer patients, only 13 percent attend group support meetings, though many live a long time with the disease, according to the UCLA center.

“That leaves a large population of prostate cancer patients who might experience a better quality of life by leaning on their spouses,” the new research notes.

For a year and a half, Dr. Litwin surveyed 211 prostate patients who were either married or in a committed relationship, and 80 single patients. Using a series of questionnaires given to the patients every six months, Dr. Litwin assessed their mental health, personal spirituality and the stress brought on by the disease itself.

Dr. John Gore, another urologist and a member of the research team, said the “partnered” men had less anxiety and fear about the disease recurring and were better able to deal with the distressing side effects of treatment, which typically include fatigue, nausea and pain.

“Partnered men did report significantly fewer urinary symptoms. Moreover, partnered men reported significantly fewer general cancer-related symptoms than single men,” the study notes.

“Men in a relationship reported better mental health, as well as greater levels of spirituality,” the research states, concluding that the “personal relationship independently im- proved the patient’s quality of life and mitigated the psychological and physical impacts of cancer, its treatment and adverse effects.”

Researchers, however, have advice for single prostate cancer patients and their physicians in the meantime.

They recommend doctors take their patients’ marital status into account, and if they are single, persuade them to attend a support group.

“Now we need to find a way to encourage the use of support groups in patients who aren’t married or in relationships, so they can do better, too,” Dr. Litwin said.

His research will be published in the July 1 issue of Cancer, a medical journal published by the American Cancer Society.

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