Latina wives of men with prostate cancer experience stressful, emotional journey

Prostate cancer has become known as a couple's disease because of its impact on both the affected men and their wives. And while studies have shown that being married can have a positive impact for men with prostate cancer, there has been little research on women's experiences.   

Now, in a new study published in the March issue of the journal Qualitative Health Research, researchers from the UCLA School of Nursing focus on the impact and experiences of men's prostate cancer treatment and recovery on Latina wives.  

"Latina wives of men with prostate cancer experience a stressful, emotional journey which they keep to themselves," said Sally Maliski, the school's associate dean for academic affairs and lead researcher on the study. "Wives can be powerful contributors to their husbands' recovery, and it is important to support the wives' specific needs." 

Researchers identified women whose husbands had recovered from radical prostatectomy – surgery to remove the entire prostate gland and some of the tissue around it – which has been found to have particularly harsh urinary and sexual side effects.  

The study, which followed the wives over a six-month period, found that after the initial shock and fear wore off, the women as a whole seemed to experience the same issues when dealing with the symptoms and side effects, their husbands' depression and irritability, and managing erectile dysfunction. 

The women also believed it was very important to protect their husbands from their emotions and show a strong front to their families.

"We found that in their efforts to return to a sense of normalcy, the women downplayed the changes that were occurring in their lives, even though some of the changes were quite large," added Maliski. 

"By identifying unmet needs specific to spousal caregivers, we can design interventions to support couples affected by prostate cancer and thereby improve the quality of life and clinical outcomes for survivors," Maliski said. 

The research team is continuing to speak with some of the women participants in the study with the hope of incorporating them as an advisory board in future intervention planning. 

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. In addition to Maliski, other authors of the study were Elisabeth M. Hicks, Nancy Chang and Sarah E. Connor of UCLA and Kristen C. Williams of Ohio State University, Columbus. 

The UCLA School of Nursing is redefining nursing through the pursuit of uncompromised excellence in research, education, practice, policy and patient advocacy.