April 8, 2002

Study: Helping Couples Cope With Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer affects not only the patient, but it can have a profound effect on the patient's spouse or partner, and on the couple as a whole. Generally, men don't seek support from friends or support groups; they rely on their partner. During months of treatment, the responsibilities of running the household may fall entirely to the spouse, creating an additional burden while she is coping with fears about her partner's illness. All of this comes at a time in life when the spouse may be experiencing health problems of her own.

Researchers at the Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center are conducting a study in which they train caregivers in specific stress management, coping and problem-solving skills, and then evaluate the effectiveness of this training.

Funded by a grant from the state Department of Health Services, the study will involve 188 couples.

"Since prostate cancer incidence increases with age, the disease often affects men whose partners are older, placing added strain on the emotional and physical well being of both partners," said the study's principal investigator, Georgia Robins Sadler, Ph.D., Associate Director of Outreach at Moores UCSD Cancer Center. "Helping both to stay strong can improve the quality of life for the patient with prostate cancer, while helping to prevent the deterioration of his partner's health."

Nearly 185,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, making it the most common cancer afflicting American men. It is the nation's second leading cause of cancer death in men, claiming nearly 40,000 lives each year.

Sadler, who is also an associate professor of surgery of UCSD School of Medicine, said that a diagnosis of prostate cancer brings with it complex psychosocial issues for the caregiver.

"With many couples in this age group, there has been a traditional division of responsibilities," she said. "Now, not only are they dealing with an uncertain future, they also may be facing a temporary or permanent major reversal of roles. Perhaps for the first time in their relationship, the spouse or partner must become the principal decision-maker and may be ill-prepared for such issues as managing the family's finances, dealing with their HMO, etc."

By offering support services to partners of patients coping with prostate cancer, the study will evaluate the benefits in helping both partners to function optimally.

The program sends a trainer to the couple's home (or another location if the couple prefers) to work one-on-one with the patient's partner. The effectiveness of this intervention will be measured by contrasting the coping progress of couples who receive standard supportive therapy with the progress of those who receive standard supportive therapy plus the new program. The participants will be divided equally between the two groups.

The free supportive-care training program is given for one hour each week and lasts for eight weeks. Couples in both groups are asked to complete short questionnaires at the start of the program, at 10 weeks, and again at six months, to evaluate the program. Each couple receives $100 upon completion of the third follow-up questionnaire.

Researchers hope to have representatives from as many cultural groups as possible to make the study meaningful for diverse groups of men with prostate cancer.

To participate, patients must have been diagnosed with prostate cancer within the last 18 months, be married or have a live-in partner, speak some English, and live in San Diego County. There are no restrictions based upon stage of cancer or chosen treatment. For more information on the prostate caregivers study, contact the Moores UCSD Cancer Center at (858) 534-7611.

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NOTE TO EDITORS: Health care providers and patients are available for interview. Please contact UCSD Health Sciences Communications Office, (619) 543-6163.

Media Contact:
Nancy Stringer