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Anxiety Common Among Partners of Young Women Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

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If you’re married or living together in a committed relationship, your spouse or partner is likely to be affected the most if you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer -- after you, of course. It’s natural for your partner to fear for your health and well-being and feel concerned about what will happen over the long term.

One of the first studies on the psychological and social issues affecting younger people with cancer suggests that nearly half of the partners of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer experienced anxiety, sometimes years after the diagnosis.

The research was presented at the 2017 Cancer Survivorship Symposium on Jan. 28, 2017. Read the abstract of “Partners of young breast cancer survivors: A cross-sectional evaluation of psychosocial issue and mental health.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed the partners of 289 women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 or younger about psychological and social issues they were facing:

  • 98% of the partners were male
  • the partners’ ages ranged from 27 to 65
  • 93% of the partners were white
  • 94% of the partners worked full-time
  • 78% of the partners were college educated
  • 74% of the partners were parenting children younger than 18

The partners completed the survey 16 months to 9.5 years after their partner was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The results showed the partners felt a substantial amount of stress and anxiety:

  • 29% said they had some financial stress
  • 32% said they had concerns about their relationship
  • 42% said they had anxiety

Partners who used ineffective methods to cope with the stress and anxiety caused by a breast cancer diagnosis -- including drinking more, withdrawing from the relationship, blaming others for problems, and acting aggressively -- were more than twice as likely to continue to feel stressed and anxious after treatment ended compared to partners who used effective coping strategies.

“Cancer doesn’t just happen to one person; it has an impact on the entire family,” said Nancy Borstelmann, director of the Department of Social Work at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who presented the research. “We need to start with asking partners how they are doing, to bring them into the conversation, to intervene earlier. We need to identify their concerns, their needs, and to make sure they have adequate information. Only then can we engage them with resources to address anxiety and its causes, with support groups and psychologists.”

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, your partner is likely to feel an enormous amount of stress and anxiety, no matter how old you are. As this study strongly suggests, people who use less-than-effective strategies to cope with this stress, such as drinking or withdrawing, are much more likely to feel stressed for a longer period of time.

Visit our blog on "Self-Care for Caregivers" to read tips from experts in the field on how your partner can take care of him/herself and de-stress.

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