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Male Cancer Patients 'Isolated and Abandoned' After Treatment

12 June 2011


Men feel isolated and abandoned by health services once cancer treatment has ended, researchers at the University of Ulster have reported.

This week (week commencing 13 June) is International Men’s Health Week and a study carried out by the University’s Institute of Nursing Research and funded by the Ulster Cancer Foundation (UCF) examined how men cope with diagnosis, treatment and after care of prostate cancer.

It explored how men with prostate cancer experience and cope with the effects of combined radiotherapy and hormone treatment over a period of 18 months.

Dr Eilis McCaughan, Principal Research Investigator at the Institute of Nursing Research (pictured) , said: "This is one of the first studies to highlight both the physical and psychosocial issues that men face, over a period of time, when living with a diagnosis of prostate cancer. The results highlight the impact of cancer and its treatments on men and their reactions and responses to them."

The findings found that although men were satisfied with the care and support received during treatment they felt isolated and abandoned once treatment had ended. The research also discovered that those with a low quality of life prior to radiotherapy experienced an even lower level of quality of life soon after treatment. They constitute an at-risk and vulnerable group in need of support from health services.

Roisin Foster, Chief Executive of UCF said: "Cancer has a huge impact on our society. Every year in Northern Ireland around 960 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. We know from our work with men living with prostate cancer that dealing with the side effects of cancer treatment can have a long-term impact on men’s confidence, self-esteem and quality of life. The findings of this research are crucially important to us as we plan and deliver services that will offer optimal support throughout their illness.

"The findings validate experience on the ground and clearly point the way for the development of support services tailored to the expressed needs of men living with prostate cancer. Its relevance cannot be over-emphasised and has helped to shape our future programme planning."

The University of Ulster researchers also reported that the wives or partners of the men were the main source of support and married men had a higher quality of life after treatment than single men.

While men presented a pragmatic approach as a main coping strategy and wanted to ‘just get on with it’, they revealed many frustrations and anxieties during the interviews. During the prostate study they experienced fatigue, diarrhoea and urinary problems more acutely and had a lower quality of life after radiotherapy than before treatment.

Sexual dysfunction was a significant side effect of hormone therapy, which caused feelings of resignation, anger and guilt. This is an issue that they did not discuss with healthcare professionals, partners or friends. Men require professional support to help them cope with this distressing symptom.

Ms Foster continued: "In addition to funding the research, we have also allocated funding to enable the findings to be translated into a pilot project – Prostate CONNECT – a self-management programme delivered by Ulster Cancer Foundation counsellors to support men and their partners following treatment for prostate cancer.

"The programme, to which participants are currently being recruited, will offer assistance to men and their partners to help reduce uncertainty about their illness, manage side effects of treatment, empower them to set personal targets and encourage them to adopt or maintain healthy lifestyles."



* Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed non-cutaneous cancer among men in Northern Ireland
* The incidence of prostate cancer increases sharply in men over 55, with the highest incidence occurring in men over 70
* As the elderly population increases it is anticipated that the number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer will increase accordingly
* Improved treatment means that more men will be surviving prostate cancer and living with the consequences of the disease and its treatment
* The research study used both quantitative and qualitative methods. 149 men with prostate cancer who were about to undergo radiotherapy were recruited to the study.
* Data was collected at four time points, up to one year post-treatment
* UCF is one of the major funders of research into cancer in Northern Ireland. Since 1969 it has invested £11m in research and supported over 250 research investigations into the cancer group of diseases, provided training for dozens of young clinicians and scientists at the University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast as well as helping to fund the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.