|NEW YORK MAY 23, 2005 (Reuters Health) - Men who are married or in a serious relationship fare better after treatment for prostate cancer than single men, suggesting that social support helps men cope with cancer, according to new study findings released Monday.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found that men with prostate cancer who were in a relationship had better mental health, were less distressed by urinary problems, and coped better with the nausea, fatigue and pain that accompanied cancer treatment.
Lead author Dr. Mark S. Litwin noted that men likely benefit from the "additional support" from their partners when coping with the stress of cancer.
He added that doctors should "strongly encourage" single men to turn to friends, family and other sources of support after a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
"If you rely on your intimate support network, your outcomes are going to be better," he told Reuters Health.
Previous research has shown that men who are married may be more likely to survive prostate cancer. Married men are also often diagnosed at an earlier stage in the disease, which suggests that being married helps men's survival by encouraging them to get screened regularly.
In addition, the researchers speculate that men with partners may have "built-in support systems" that help them cope with the psychological and physical stress of dealing with prostate cancer.
To investigate further, Litwin and his colleagues interviewed 291 uninsured, poor men enrolled in a program that provides free treatment for prostate cancer. Men were considered to have partners if they lived with a spouse or partner, or said they were in a significant relationship, but not living together.
Partnered men tended to undergo surgery more often than single men, and avoid watchful waiting.
The benefits of partnership were very visible when looking at men's mental health, the authors report in the journal Cancer. Men who did not have partners appeared to have worse mental health than men with chronic, debilitating illnesses such as diabetes and heart failure.
Men in partnerships also tended to have more spirituality, but less faith in their interactions with their doctors.
In an interview, Litwin explained that additional research has shown men in partnerships also tend to fare better with lung and bladder cancers, and having a partner may benefit women with cancer, as well.