Medical Student Katarina Sjövall from Lund University in Sweden has studied cancer patients with breast, colorectal, lung or prostate cancer and their partners, and found that the partner's rate of diagnosed diseases increased by 25% after the cancer diagnosis.
The most significant illness that a partner would be diagnosed with was depression, but there was also a significant increase in cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal diseases and abdominal diseases.
Of the partners of those with lung cancer, the risk of heart disease increased almost 50% and they had 70% more sick days off work in the year following their partner’s cancer diagnosis, when compared with the general population. It also led to an increased use of health services and inpatient care.
Male partners of cancer patients were particularly affected, and healthcare costs for men under 64 who had a wife or partner with cancer were most expensive. In the general population, women usually have greater healthcare costs.
"One possible explanation could be that the men feel less comfortable taking on a caring role as the partner of a cancer patient and that they therefore suffer more stress," Sjövall said. "Having a close relative with cancer entails worry and anxiety and an increased workload that places a strain on one's health."
After interviewing patients with colorectal cancer and their partners, she also found that they felt their physical and psychological experiences were not acknowledged by the medical profession and partners often felt pushed away and not as involved as they would like to be.
"Our interviews showed that the cancer patients sometimes chose not to tell those closest to them what they were going through out of consideration for them. However, this considerate attitude could have the opposite effect," Sjövall added.
Giving better end of life care and more support to relatives of those with cancer may be the answer to improving their own health outcomes.
Source: Lund University - http://www.lu.se/o.o.i.s?id=12588&postid=1786411
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.