It's a well-established fact that breast cancer causes a woman to experience large amounts of damaging stress. But now, a group from Ohio State University suggests that husbands of women who have or have had breast cancer show a measurable negative impact of stress on their health, sometimes years after their wives have concluded treatment.
The study, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, shows that it is the overall amount of reported stress due to his wife's illness that determines a man's physical health, rather than the current status of that illness. In other words, even if a women is completely healthy, the past stress her cancer could have caused her husband is still going to affect him. Researchers found this stress manifested physically as headaches, fatigue, and abdominal pain.
The study assessed 32 men who had each been married, on average, 25 years. It used a combination of self-reported stress levels measured on the Impact of Events Scale, designed to measure the stress brought on by certain intrusive events, and a white blood cell activation to measure immune function.
The authors say the implications for their research are wide-ranging, and include the need to reform current care protocols to take into account the male caregiver's stress levels. Men whose wives are experiencing cancer are sometimes called hidden patients, because even when they come along to doctors' appointments, very rarely does anyone ask how they are coping. A man who is coping better with stress, however, will be a more caring, supportive emotional resource for his wife, the authors reason.
Source: Ohio State University