Male Partners’ Mood Affected by Breast Cancer

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A large Danish study adds to evidence showing that male partners of women diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to suffer from depression and other serious mood disorders compared to men whose partners haven't been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Denmark has a national healthcare system. This makes it easier to track people's health. National registries contains health information on everyone in the health system, so researchers can look for patterns in health issues.

The researchers looked at the health records of more than 1 million men who lived continuously with a female partner for the previous 5 years. None of the men had been hospitalized for a serious mood disorder (also called an affective disorder). During the 13 years of follow up, the female partners of more than 20,000 men were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Compared to men whose partners weren't diagnosed with breast cancer, men whose partners were diagnosed were more likely to be hospitalized more than once for a serious mood disorder, usually severe depression.

The more aggressive the partner's breast cancer, the more likely the man was to be hospitalized more than once.

The emotional effects breast cancer has on a partner or other loved one can be as severe as they are on the person diagnosed. It's true that the physical challenges of the disease and its treatment -- surgical wounds and chemotherapy side effects, for example -- are only experienced by the person diagnosed. Still, many of the other challenges that may come with a breast cancer diagnosis -- worry, lack of sleep, changes in routines, feeling out of control -- often are experienced by the woman diagnosed AND her partner and loved ones.

This study showed that the emotional toll of breast cancer may cause some men to be hospitalized. For many partners and loved ones, the depression and anxiety that accompany a partner's breast cancer diagnosis aren't severe enough to need hospitalization; still these emotional issues will reduce the partner's quality of life and overall health.

If you're being treated for breast cancer, you may want to talk to your partner about how he or she is handling your diagnosis and treatment. If you sense that your partner is struggling emotionally, you can ask other loved ones and your medical team for help. Caring for each other is one of the best things you and your partner can do to fight cancer and stay well, both physically and emotionally.

On the You and Your Partner page, you can read more about the effect a breast cancer diagnosis may have on your relationship with your partner, including possible challenges to intimacy and sexuality.

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