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Men’s mental health during cancer and beyond

Encouraging men to get support

Given increasing numbers of those living with cancer long-term (and in remission), the question about the quality-of-life after cancer becomes fundamentally important.1 Does longer life equate to a happy and fulfilling life?

The answer to this question is gender-specific, with research showing that the experience of cancer differs for men and women both physically and psychologically.2 Although men face a greater overall risk of cancer, women are diagnosed with cancer earlier in life.3 This earlier diagnosis may be a shock, whereas older adults maybe more likely to anticipate the onset of chronic illness with advanced age. 

In a study of nearly 15,000 men and women, cancer was associated with elevated anxiety levels in men as well as a lifetime diagnosis of depression, and other psycho-social impacts.4 while a study in the USA found that of over 8.5 million cancer patients, 13,311 committed suicide, 83% of which were male.5

For men, although a cancer diagnosis happens, on average, later in life, older men may be confronted with a disruption in family and work roles, and the sense of purpose and meaning attached to those. In addition, in prostate cancer for example, there is a very high survival rate, but the side effects of the treatment and the cancer itself (including impotence, incontinence and bowel problems) often mean that men feel there is a stigma attached to their diagnosis – making it difficult for them to talk about their experience and tackle some of the mental and emotional impacts of those side-effects.6

Further research shows that 1 in 5 men with prostate cancer experience long-term anxiety and depression, but sadly, 72% of those men impacted by prostate-related mental health issues will not seek help.7 

Further work needs to be done to try to normalise the fact that being diagnosed with cancer is a major life-changing event, regardless of your gender, or whether your prognosis is good or not. We need look at the different ways in which we might empower male cancer patients and health professionals to better recognise the less obvious signs of a need for emotional support - and reach out. In addition, a consideration of broader approaches, beyond talk therapies, that recognise men’s need for that support to occur in more active ways.

The focus on men’s physical health in preventing cancer is important, but it is critical that we promote men’s emotional health

If you, or a loved one you know, are struggling with the impact of your cancer journey, please reach out for support. Cancer Council provides a free confidential helpline 13 11 20 run by health professionals. They also offer a peer support service Cancer Connect.

References:

  1. Shreshta A, et al. Psychooncology 2019; 28(7):1367-1380.
  2. Kim HI, et al. Biomol Ther 2018; 26(4):335-342.
  3. American Cancer Society. Lifetime risk of developing or dying from cancer 2022. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-causes/general-info/lifetime-probability-of-developing-or-dying-from-cancer.html. Accessed on: 13/10/22.
  4. Ernst M, et al. J Psychosomatic Res 2019; 124:109760.
  5. Zaorsky NG, et al. Nat Commun 2019; 14;10(1):207.
  6. Buote R, et al. Oncol Nurs Forum 2020; 1:47(5):577-585.
  7. Duarte V, et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2022; 19(15):9122.
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