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Study Supports Early Intervention for Prostate Cancer Patients Who Experience Significant Emotional Distress

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Key Points

  • Factors associated with greater distress included a lack of confidence in how to treat the cancer, concern over cancer progression, feeling that one’s masculinity was under threat, and tendencies to be less optimistic and resilient.
  • Analyses also revealed that increased emotional distress might motivate men diagnosed with prostate cancer to choose surgery.
  • Providing early support when patients are deciding what treatment to pursue may help head off long-term distress.

A study led by the University at Buffalo (UB) and Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) has identified beliefs and personality traits associated with higher levels of distress in patients with newly diagnosed prostate cancer. The findings support the value of emotional and informational support for patients and perhaps early counseling for some who are the most distressed. These findings were published by Orom et al in Psycho-Oncology.

Study Background

The study results are from a larger longitudinal study of prostate cancer patients, “Live Well Live Long!” The research was based on assessments of 1,425 men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer at five different centers.

“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,” said Heather Orom, PhD, the study’s lead author and Assistant Professor of Community Health and Health Behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions. “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,” said Dr. Orom, together with Willie Underwood III, MD, MPH, Associate Professor in the Department of Urology at Roswell Park.

“As urologists, we have to find better ways to assist men and their families after a prostate cancer diagnosis, which can be a difficult time for many. This study brings us one step closer to doing so,” said Dr. Underwood.

Factors that were associated with greater distress included a lack of confidence in deciding how to treat the cancer, being concerned that the cancer will progress, feeling that one’s masculinity was under threat, and tendencies to be less optimistic and resilient.

Choosing More Aggressive Treatment

A second set of analyses from the same study revealed that emotional distress may motivate men diagnosed with prostate cancer to choose surgery.

“Importantly, greater distress was associated with choosing more aggressive treatment in men with lower-risk disease among those with potentially low-risk cancer,” said Dr. Orom. “These are men for whom active surveillance may be a viable option."

She added, “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.”

The second study, “Emotional Distress Predicts Choosing Surgery over Active Surveillance in Clinically Localized Prostate Cancer Patients,” assessed 1,050 men diagnosed with clinically localized prostate cancer and was presented at the American Urological Association Annual Meeting on May 18 (Abstract PD34-12).

Heading Off Long-Term Distress

Dr. Orom noted that previous studies have shown that for most men diagnosed with prostate cancer, anxiety, depression, and emotional distress is highest at diagnosis and declines as treatment progresses. Approximately one-quarter to one-third of men initially experience clinically significant emotional distress, including some who continue to experience psychological issues for many years after they are treated.

“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,” said Dr. Orom.

“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.”

Dr. Orom noted that some men may benefit from further explanation of prostate cancer prognosis, and others may need more decision-making support. For some, she said, it may be important to discuss beliefs that prostate cancer and treatment side effects might threaten what is important to them as a man.

“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,” she added.

Dr. Orom is the corresponding author for the Psycho-Oncology article.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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