The emotional impact of prostate cancer
One of the most common cancers to affect American men is prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, for the year 2108, nearly 165,000 men in the U.S. will hear the words, “You have prostate cancer.” Just comprehending that diagnosis can be extraordinarily overwhelming for many men. While most men do not die from the disease, men with prostate cancer do suffer high rates of depression and anxiety.
Prostate cancer, like all cancers, does affect men physically. But men diagnosed with the disease face a unique set of emotional issues. For men, there is a stigma associated with prostate cancer that may prevent them from talking about their emotional needs and from seeking mental health counseling.
Here is a look at the particular effects prostate cancer can have on a man’s mental health and how all men can protect their emotional well-being when battling the disease.
· Coping with a diagnosis of prostate cancer
Simply hearing of a prostate cancer diagnosis can evoke fear, anxiety, and a range of other emotional issues. Many men have the assumption that their sex life will be nonexistent or never the same, and that their relationship with their significant other will be negatively affected.
· Many decisions will need to be made
Prostate cancer is unique when compared to other cancers in regards to treatment options. There are various ways of fighting back the disease such as surgery, radiation, and active surveillance, making it difficult for men to sometimes know which option is best. Added to this stress is if a man gets a second opinion and both doctors disagree on the best course of action, this only adds further anxiety.
· Fear of sexual problems
Let’s face it, men diagnosed with prostate cancer probably worry the most about how their sex life will be impacted. There can be sexual problems which makes it vital every man with prostate cancer have a frank discussion with his urologist on what he can expect. For many men, this may be the first time they have had issues in the bedroom. This may lead to a sense of emasculation and guilt for not being able to have intimate relations due to anxiety and fear. Men who are suffering from loss of libido and erectile dysfunction are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and fear of disease progression.
· Concerns of how their cancer will affect their work and finances
Even though most men with prostate cancer should be able to continue working at their current job, for some men, if they are unable to, this can be challenging to him both financially and emotionally. Most men see themselves as the breadwinner of the family and when they have to temporarily take time off to care for themselves, it can be devastating.
· Dealing with emotions of fear, grief, anxiety, and depression
Anyone with a cancer diagnosis will experience a wide range of emotions. For men with prostate cancer, they may feel shame from the stigma of the disease that affects his most intimate part of his life. Grieving could be another emotion as they may feel that life goals may never come to fruition and their self-image could be changed. Depression can be a fairly common feeling before, during and after prostate cancer treatment, primarily from loss of self-esteem, physical pain, or even as a side effect of treatment itself.
Ways for men to deal with the emotions of prostate cancer
Fortunately, not all men will experience the above emotions but for those who do, there are several ways helping them get through this phase of their life to keep their mental health intact.
· Join a support group
Many cancer patients find a great deal of support from other people going through the same experience. There are lots of options for both in-person and online prostate cancer support groups. Men who are interested in joining such a group should ask their doctor for help in suggesting a prostate cancer support group in their area
· Seek professional counseling and mental health care
Any man who develops severe depression or anxiety should be referred for professional counseling. Depression and anxiety can add to the fatigue, fogginess, and distraction a man may already be experiencing as treatment side effects. The health care team should be able to recommend and refer men for counseling, psychotherapy, couples therapy, or psychiatric care.
· Consider medication for anxiety and depression
Men who were already taking medication for anxiety or depression before their diagnosis of prostate cancer should continue taking them after discussing it with their doctor. For men who were not taking any medication for anxiety or depression previously but are now having issues after their prostate cancer diagnosis, should also discuss with their doctor if they think medication can help.