Harvard Perspectives on Prostate Disease

Prostate cancer and relationships: The partner's story

As with any disease, when prostate cancer strikes, its reach goes beyond the patient. Entire families feel the impact. But because treatment for prostate cancer can affect continence and sexual functioning, it can hit at the core of romantic, intimate relationships.

"Some men select treatment based on how it will affect their sexual function," says Frank McCaffrey, LICSW, OSW-C, a senior clinical social worker with the Oncology Service at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who routinely meets with prostate cancer patients before and after treatment. "But other men just want the cancer out and say that they'll worry about all of the other problems later on. Later, they may regret that they didn't do more research initially."

Although every relationship is different, similar themes emerge. Being incontinent or impotent harms a man's quality of life. "It can affect his body image and make him feel less attractive," says McCaffrey. As a result, he may pull away from his partner. Not wanting to push or make the man feel guilty about the loss of sex, spouses and partners may keep silent about their needs. The man may then feel that his lover is no longer interested in him.

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