How to Support Your Partner During Prostate Cancer Treatment
Prostate cancer is second only to nonmelanoma skin cancer as the most common type of cancer in men, according to the American Cancer Society. It's also the second-leading cause, behind lung cancer, of cancer-related deaths in American men. While any cancer diagnosis is scary, prostate cancer is one of the disease's most survivable forms, with some 3.1 million U.S. men who have been diagnosed at some point still living today.
If your partner has been diagnosed, you may find comfort in knowing they are not alone—and neither are you. Here are a few tips to help you provide the best support for your partner and to strengthen your bond along the way.
Educate yourself on prostate cancer
Nearly a quarter-million new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, resulting in about 34,000 deaths. Despite these sobering statistics, the first fact partners of men with prostate cancer need to know is that it's one of the most treatable and slowest-growing cancers. Detected early enough, the disease can be monitored and treated before it spreads to other parts of the body.
Sitting down with your partner and learning together about prostate cancer is a great first step toward easing any fears.
Offer to be there—literally
No one wants to go through a crisis alone. Many men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer like having their partner accompany them to doctor's visits. Confirming a diagnosis likely involves several trips and various types of exams, so your guy is in for lots of nerve-racking appointments.
With you there, your partner can focus less on remembering every tidbit of information the doctor offers and more on his emotions, knowing that you can take notes and ask your own questions.
Understand the diagnosis and treatment options
Once your partner has undergone a few rounds of tests, including a digital rectal exam (DRE) as well as at least two prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, the doctor will likely order a biopsy.
Once the cells have been examined by a pathologist in a lab and determined to be positive, the cancer will be assigned a grade called a Gleason score, which will likely influence the doctor's treatment recommendations.
The pathology report is likely overwhelming to anyone without a medical degree, but the American Cancer Society has helpful information about what you can expect from a biopsy report, what Gleason scores mean and more.
The good news is that depending on the type of cancer, many clinicians are easing off aggressive treatments such as radical prostate surgery or radiation treatment. If the diagnosis points to an early-stage, low-grade cancer, the doctor's recommendation might be active surveillance, which involves close monitoring, stepped-up exams and a yearly biopsy.
Keeping all this information straight and asking informed questions can help take a load off your partner's stressed-out mind.
Talk with your partner about post-treatment sex
One of the biggest fears men experience after a prostate cancer diagnosis is about how their sex life might change.
The prostate is a crucial part of a man's sexual response, and old-school prostate surgery often resulted in damage or destruction to the nerves and blood vessels necessary for an erection. Today, many men receive good news: Doctors may be able to use nerve-sparing prostate surgery to avoid the worst surgical effects. Your partner may well be able to enjoy a more or less typical sex life after recovery from prostate surgery.
Be aware that in the case of a radical prostatectomy—in which the entire prostate is removed—your partner will likely be able to feel an orgasm but won't be able to ejaculate.
Changes like these may be hard to swallow, and your guy is going to need your assurance that you're in this together. Even with nerve damage, erectile dysfunction (ED) treatment options abound to help restore full sexual function—with your loving support.
Not to sugarcoat it: Any cancer diagnosis is frightening news. But the silver lining is that many types of prostate cancer can be left alone for years—under close observation—before any intervention is necessary.
Regardless of which kind of prostate cancer is diagnosed, by educating yourself on your partner's disease and taking the time to be with them, you can lend the extra strength he needs to get through a stressful and scary part of life.