Emotional Support Needed for Newly Diagnosed Prostate Cancer Patients

Many patients experience distress from concerns over treatment and disease progression.

Many patients experience distress from concerns over treatment and disease progression.

Patients newly diagnosed with prostate cancer are in need of additional support from providers to deal with the emotional distress of their disease, a recent study indicates.

Published online in Psycho-Oncology, the study included 1425 newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients. The results showed that the factors associated with increased distress included a lack of confidence in cancer treatment strategies, concern over disease progression, and a perceived threat to masculinity, which lead to the tendency to be less optimistic and less resilient.

"There are several studies that have examined distress in prostate cancer patients after treatment, but few that assessed distress in men early in diagnosis, before receiving treatment," study lead author Heather Orom, PhD, said in a press release. "Our study provides a stronger empirical basis for designing or selecting interventions for these men. To provide the correct support, we need a better understanding of what causes distress in these types of patients.”

Furthermore, the researchers found emotional distress can drive newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients to opt for surgery.

"Importantly, greater distress was associated with choosing more aggressive treatment in men with lower-risk disease among those with potentially low-risk cancer," Orom said. "These are men for whom active surveillance may be a viable option. Ideally, prostate cancer patients' treatment decisions will reflect an accurate understanding of treatment options, assess treatment outcomes and chances of recovery, and also include personal preferences. Results of this study strongly support managing emotional distress in all prostate cancer patients."

Prior research indicates that most men diagnosed with prostate cancer experience their worst bouts of anxiety, depression, and emotional distress following initial diagnosis, which subsequently decreases afterward. However, approximately one-quarter to one-third of patients experience clinically significant emotional distress after diagnosis, including those who struggle with psychological issues for many years following treatment.

"Our findings suggest that providing early support when patients are deciding what treatment to pursue may help head off long-term distress and may also support men who are making a difficult decision between multiple treatment options with the potential for serious side effects,” Orom said. "Understanding the factors associated with distress allows us to think in nuanced ways about the kinds of support needed by prostate cancer patients and when such support should be offered -- particularly when men are first diagnosed."

The researchers found that some patients may benefit from a deeper explanation of their prognosis, while other patients may require more support in decision-making, including for beliefs that prostate cancer and the side effects from treatment may potentially threaten their masculinity.

"Furthermore, developing interventions for men who are distressed at diagnosis could also improve clinical practice for all prostate cancer patients if it encourages more informative and supportive communication between providers and patients in general,” Orom concluded.