Anxiety is common among partners of young breast cancer survivors, even several years after the diagnosis, according to a new analysis. Anxiety was correlated with the use of less constructive and more maladaptive coping strategies, and has implications for the survivor as well.
“Cancer doesn’t just happen to one person; it has an impact on the entire family,” said study lead author Nancy Borstelmann, MPH, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, according to a press release. “As the number of breast cancer survivors continues to grow in the United States, interventions targeting the concerns of partners—and entire families—are needed to help them cope with the inevitable and often unanticipated changes that come with a cancer diagnosis.” She will present the study at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2017 Cancer Survivorship Symposium, held January 27–28 in San Diego.
The study involved a one-time survey evaluating psychosocial concerns of partners of women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 or younger. A total of 289 partners responded (284 male), and the median time since breast cancer diagnosis was 62 months.
Most respondents were white (93%) and were working full time (94%); most were college educated (78%), and 29% reported “some financial stress.” Thirty-two percent of respondents reported at least a fair amount of relationship concern, and 74% were parenting children under the age of 18. A total of 42% of respondents with sufficient survey responses (13% had insufficient responses) had anxiety.
A univariate analysis showed that lower education, full-time employment, parenting concerns, insufficient social support, and maladaptive coping were all associated with anxiety (P < .05). However, a multivariate analysis showed that only less constructive/more maladaptive coping remained significantly associated, with an odds ratio of 2.32 (95% CI, 1.22–4.39; P < .01).
“As members of the cancer care team, we can all take immediate steps to ensure that the mental health and other concerns of partners and families are addressed,” Borstelmann said. “It may seem like a small thing, but asking a partner ‘how are you doing?’ has impact, and can open the door to important conversation about how things are going at home and with the patient–partner relationship.”
The authors noted that future interventions should focus on the development of constructive coping strategies to help partners deal with cancer’s impact. ASCO expert Merry Jennifer Markham, MD, of the University of Florida in Gainesville, said that family members of those diagnosed with cancer often set aside their own health and well-being. “We need to better understand the specific issues facing caregivers in order to address their anxiety effectively and find ways to help them cope,” she said. “When partners of cancer patients take care of themselves, it benefits everyone.”