In a study at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy, researchers surveyed the thoughts of 833 Swedish men before and after surgery for prostate cancer. The suicide rate in this group is high, and the aim of the study was to map the men’s thoughts.
“Our results show that 73% of the men had sudden involuntary negative intrusive thoughts about their cancer at some point before surgery, and almost 60% still had these thoughts three months after surgery,” says Thordis Thorsteinsdottir, in whose thesis the results are reported. “One in four thought about theirown death at least once a week.”
Her thesis shows that men who do not expect to be cured by the treatment have negative intrusive thoughts more often.
“Men who often think these thoughts about their prostate cancer before surgery are more likely to have low or moderate perceived quality of life three months afterwards,” says Thorsteinsdottir.
Her thesis discusses a method which can reduce these intrusive thoughts. Known as expressive writing, the method has been tested on other cancer patients with good results and involves getting the men affected to spend 20 minutes writing down their feelings on at least three occasions after getting their cancer diagnosis.
The idea is that this helps the men to put their intrusive thoughts into words. It is then easier to talk to friends and family, which reduces their negative thoughts and so improves their mental health.
“Health professionals could be better at communicating with men who have had a cancer diagnosis,” says Thorsteinsdottir. “If every man was asked ‘What do you think about your cancer and your future?’ and we then took the time to listen, we might be in a better position to help them handle this new situation and prevent drastic actions such as suicide.”
The thesis is the first from a study which, once data collection is complete, will cover 4,000 men with prostate cancer from 13 urology clinics in Sweden. The study is being led by Eva Haglind from the Sahlgrenska Academy.
The thesis “Maintaining quality of life after prostate cancer diagnosis” was defended on Friday 21 October.