The word “cancer” triggers emotions. These emotions often include fear, anxiety, anger, stress, and for many, depression. Men diagnosed with prostate cancer can be especially hard hit with strong emotions. Prostate cancer affects a man’s reproductive, urinary, and gastrointestinal systems which may cause side effects of incontinence and erectile dysfunction. These situations can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment and may create long-term anxiety of regaining function in the future. Add to this mix, men with prostate cancer may hide their feelings from not only medical staff but even family and friends.
While prostate cancer is generally highly treatable and has an excellent survival rate, men still feel significant stress, anxiety, and depression. Cancer diagnoses are scary and these feelings are normal and expected. Yet men, and society’s view of men, see men’s role as showing strength, power, control, and toughness. The exact opposite of how they may really feel after a diagnosis of the second most common cancer in American men after skin cancer.
Studies on men, prostate cancer, and depression
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common psychological conditions experienced by patients with cancer, including men with prostate cancer. Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Men with depression may feel hopeless or worthless along with feelings of constant fatigue, poor sleep, no appetite, loss of interest in sex, and irritability.
A 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis study in BMJ Open found that the prevalence of depression and anxiety in men with prostate cancer was relatively high. This same study also emphasized that further research is needed to make sure men with prostate cancer and suffering from psychological distress were being identified and receiving appropriate treatment.
A more recent 2021 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that among more than 32,000 male veterans with prostate cancer and no previous history of depression, 25.7% of these patients were diagnosed with depression after their diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Depression in men with prostate cancer is real. Being given a diagnosis of prostate cancer and then living with the disease, affects each man uniquely. Treatments for prostate cancer such as hormone therapy may cause physical bodily changes such as weight gain, mood swings, reduced physical strength, or changes to sex life. Even after treatment is done and men are declared cancer-free, feelings of isolation can linger, especially if they’re no longer seeing their doctor or nurse. Worries or concerns of cancer coming back can escalate every time they get their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test results. All of which is completely understandable and normal.
How doctors can help men with prostate cancer deal with depression
In order to help men with prostate cancer and depression move forward, doctors must create an environment in which men feel comfortable sharing their feelings. At the time of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, doctors can reassure men it’s normal to have a certain amount of anxiety and sadness. A referral to a local prostate cancer support group can be an important step in helping men deal with these feelings. Many hospitals and cancer centers have oncology social workers who specialize in working with cancer patients. They can help men talk about their experiences and find ways to cope. They also provide assistance with financial and insurance issues.
It’s also been shown that men who receive strong emotional support from their prostate cancer healthcare team are more likely to follow treatment plans. It’s when men feel depressed and hopeless, that they are more likely to skip treatments or give up on them altogether.
Ways to combat depression
It’s not always easy for men to deal with strong emotions, especially when diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, men experiencing depression should be encouraged to talk with their doctor or healthcare team getting the help they need.
Here are other ways men can help themselves through their diagnosis when suffering from depression:
- Talk to family and friends. Open up and discuss what you are feeling.
- Be kind to yourself and avoid judging yourself for your emotions. Accept your feelings and spend time with people who are positive and uplifting.
- Keep physically active and exercise as much as possible to elevate mood.
- Become an active participant in recovery efforts (don’t give in to helplessness).
- Get help from a therapist.
- Explore antidepressant medication if needed with your doctor.
- Do not blame yourself for being depressed.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to be positive if that’s not how you feel. Make the most of the days you feel well and find ways to get through the bad days.
- Remember, you are not alone.