PURPOSE: The aim of the present study was to determine the levels of anxiety of partners of breast cancer patients and to evaluate the differences of anxiety levels between patients and partners according to the stage of treatment, age and education level.
METHODS: 57 spouses or domestic partners of breast cancer patients and 148 breast cancer patients participated in this prospective cohort study and filled out the questionnaires including the Spielberger state-trait-anxiety-inventory, as well as questions based on stress-triggering procedures during breast cancer diagnosis and therapy.
RESULTS: State anxiety levels of partners were highest in partners who accompanied their patients when presenting for examinations and operations and tumorboard decisions (Mean State-Scores 52, 45 and 46.5). Anxiety scores were lowest at the stage of ongoing chemotherapy or follow-up. The 25% quartile of partners with the highest state anxiety levels had a significantly higher educational level (p = 0.023). Young men aged 18-35 years showed the highest levels of both trait and state anxiety. Partners showed significantly higher levels of anxiety than the patients for anesthetic complications (p < 0.001), e.g., fear of not waking up from general anesthetic and postoperative pain (p < 0.001). Patients showed significantly higher levels of anxiety for hairloss (p < 0.001), weight gain during chemotherapy (p < 0.001) and postoperative scars (p = 0.027).
CONCLUSION: Breast cancer patients are much more concerned about body image issues than their male partners. As these body image-associated concerns often arise from the fear of loosing attraction to their partner, these fears might be reduced by speaking about them openly. Partners are mostly concerned about surgery and anesthetic-related complications. Therefore, preoperative medical information to the partner is mandatory. Partners of breast cancer patients should be included in psycho-oncological support and medical briefings. Probably high anxiety levels of both partners and patients should be taken into account (due to younger age, lower educational level and procedures causing distress). These partners and patients should receive extra careful (clarification) counselling and (treatment support such as a psycho-oncologist) involvement of a psyco-oncologist.
Research Areas and Centers
- Research Area: Luebeck Integrated Oncology Network (LION)
- Centers: University Cancer Center Schleswig-Holstein (UCCSH)